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USA Men Bounce Back From Nail-Biter Against Turkey to Rout Japan 98-45

  • Author:
    By Steve Drumwright, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Sep 5, 2019

The United States finished the first round a perfect 3-0 with second-round games against Greece and Brazil on tap.

Faced with a little adversity coming off a nail-biting win, the USA Basketball Men's World Cup Team showed enough mettle to overwhelm Japan on Thursday at the FIBA World Cup.

Behind Jaylen Brown's 20 points, the U.S. overcame injuries to two key players to drub Japan 98-45 at Shanghai.

Combined with wins over the Czech Republic (88-67) and Turkey (93-92 in overtime), the U.S. — ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA — won Group E with a 3-0 record. The Americans, who have won a record 22-straight World Cup games, will face NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece (2-1) on Saturday and Group F winner Brazil (3-0) on Monday in the second round in Shenzhen, China. Records from the first two rounds are combined to advance two teams from each group to the quarterfinals. The Czech Republic (2-1) also advanced from Group E after beating Turkey 91-76 Thursday.

“I think we’re getting better with each outing, and that’s our goal,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We haven’t been together very long, and I think our players are enjoying playing with each other and understanding that consistency is necessary and what we have to do as a team to be successful. In that regard, they were very serious tonight and they respected the Japanese team very much. They didn’t take anything for granted. So I was pleased with their performance.”

Kemba Walker added 15 points, Harrison Barnes 14 and Donovan Mitchell and Joe Harris each had 10 for the Americans, who limited Japan to single digits in the first and third quarters.

“Obviously, you play with a sense of urgency,” Harris said of coming off the close game against Turkey. “Our game the other night against Turkey was just a realization that everybody can compete in this tournament. Then you watch their game today with Czech (Republic) beating them. FIBA — it’s a one-and-done type tournament. It’s similar to March Madness, where there’s upsets all the time, teams are capable of knocking off one another. I think for us we came in with that sense of urgency regardless of who we are playing against. Could have been Japan, could have been Greece, could have been Brazil, whoever it is you have to have that respect and that appropriate fear for everyone that you play against.”

Yudai Baba had 18 points for Japan, which is ranked 48th in the world but with an Olympic spot guaranteed as the host of next year’s Olympics. Japan went 0-3 in the World Cup. Rui Hachimura, the 21-year-old who was the ninth overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft out of Gonzaga University by the Washington Wizards, was held to four points. Yuta Watanabe, who played in 15 games for the Memphis Grizzlies last season, had nine points.

Having back-to-back games with diverse emotions — one on the edge of your seat and the next one where you can work on perfecting your scheme — didn’t mean the Americans couldn’t take positives away from the experience.

“We don’t have games like that, we don't have games like this one without understanding you can learn so much from this,” Mitchell said. “We learned a lot about how we bounced back, our aggressiveness on defense, how we execute when we move the ball well, what type of shots, what types of looks we get.”

Starting forward Jayson Tatum and backup guard Marcus Smart did not play. Tatum sprained his left ankle on the game-deciding play in overtime Tuesday against Turkey and is also expected to miss Saturday’s game against Greece. He will be re-evaluated Monday, when the U.S. will play Brazil in its final second-round game. Smart, who missed a good chunk of training camp due to a calf injury, has a strained left quad.

The USA’s 45 points allowed was the best defensive effort of all 32 teams in the first round of the World Cup, while the 53-point margin of victory was the third-highest.

The U.S. scored the first 13 points of the game and never looked back, extending the margin to 56-23 at halftime. All 10 players who dressed for the U.S. scored in the first half.

“I thought we did a good job respecting the game and respecting our opponent and understanding that, as Jaylen said, we need to improve with every outing. Especially our execution and consistency. So, that’s what pleased me most about the game and hopefully we can continue that.”

Now, it is a matchup with Greece and the Greek Freak.

“He is the MVP, but at the same time, they do have other great players on that team,” said U.S. guard Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo’s teammate on the Milwaukee Bucks. “They have a couple of bigs, a couple of shooters, so it’s not just all about Giannis. He’s a smart player. He knows how to use his teammates, so you can’t just focus all on him.”

The U.S. has won 56-straight games in international tournaments with NBA players on its roster.

Steve Drumwright is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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