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Quotes: USA Men's World Cup Team 69, Greece 53

  • Date:
    Sep 7, 2019

Gregg Popovich (USA and San Antonio Spurs head coach)
On tonight’s game against Greece.
We played a very experienced team, really well coached, and one that was really physical and executes really well. So, it was a good test for us, and it helped us get better. And that’s our goal, to try to get better in every one of these games. 

From where did you draw the defensive schemes that we saw today on Giannis [Antetokounmpo]? Was it from playing against him in the NBA or from what you saw on film from what Greece does?
Everything is always a compilation of experiences. Obviously, we’ve seen him play and [Giannis Antetokounmpo] is a great player. They shoot the ball well, and they penetrate and attack close-outs, and post-up well, and he’s obviously a force. It’s a little bit of everything. Overall, we did a good job being active and trying to be as active as we can defensively as we can, and I thought we did a great job.

Your defensive game plan worked very well.  How do you feel about where your offense is at this stage?
The defense is ahead of the offense, for sure, but that’s expected with 12 guys who’ve never played with each other before. It’s pretty easy to figure out. Each day that we have we work on our execution to get better and better, and these coaches will learn what’s best for this group of guys

Is it easier to contain Giannis [Antetokounmpo] under the FIBA rules?
I would agree with that.

Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)
What was your read on what happened on that play at the end of the game with Thanasis?

I mean, the game was over, so probably a frustration play, or something of that nature. I thought tonight we did a good job of executing, and we’ll keep moving.

Kemba said there were apologies eventually. Do you feel it’s a dead issue?
Apologies only go so far. If I don’t get up, something would have happened, then apologies is not going to help us in the next game. Luckily everybody’s all good, feeling great, and we’re just moving.

Who apologized?
I don’t know. Maybe they apologized to them. I didn’t get an apology.

You haven’t been apologized too yet?
Nah, but not really searching for an apology either. That’s part of the game. It’s going to be physical. Obviously, you hope it’s basketball plays on the ball. Sometimes, that is what it is.

What did (Giannis) say?
There was nothing to be said. Like I said, there was no exchanging, and everyone checking in on each other. It’s a basketball game. We came out here to compete tonight, glad we won and kept it moving.

Afterwards there was some back and forth and Giannis was near it?
I wasn’t in that main huddle. It was probably Marcus (Smart) who was in the center of that one.  I don’t know what was said. Our biggest thing is continuing to stick together. We’re going to have to come back to this arena – fans, referees, everybody like that. It’s going to continue to be here. We definitely want to keep this moving in the right direction.

Does it shock you how well this team has figured out what to do on the defensive end?
That’s got to be our calling card. I think when you look at past USA teams, scoring has not been an issue. There’s been a lot of talent. For us, we know that defense is how we’re going to stay in games and how we are going to be able to win and compete. I think we’ve done a good job of focusing in on that. That’s what’s really carrying us right now. 

What was your early emotion when Giannis came out on fire?
He’s a great player. He starts out hitting a three, so he’s feeling good. For us, we knew it was going to be a team effort. We threw multiple guys at him, threw multiple coverages … see how their team goes. They played more like a traditional NBA team – lot of post-ups, slow down, very methodical. We tried to use our pace to get them sped up.

Joe said the original plan was for him to take Giannis but Pop called him to tell him he was going to change it. Did Pop call you too?
No, I didn’t hear that. Joe’s a great defender, so we were really confident for him to do that.  We made the decision to switch it up. That’s just something that happens sometimes. 

Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Can you take us through the mix up at the end? We all saw it.
Everybody saw it. Move on. It really don’t matter. We got bigger fish to fry.

Did you say something to Giannis?
Yeah, I said something to Giannis. Well, Giannis said something to me, really. But, we got bigger fish to fry. So, we move on.

What did the team do to neutralize Giannis Antetokounmpo?
Nothing special, just be in help, build a wall, make it tough for him – not any crazy science. It’s not rocket science. Just be in help defense, build a wall, make it hard for him.

A lot of guys defended Giannis Antetokounmpo. What that by design or coincidence?
That was by design. Pop (Popovich) wanted to throw a bunch of different looks at him, keep him thinking. And he started off the game really well, but as the course of the game rolls, he dwindled a little bit.

How disappointing is it that the USA won, and all people will talk about is Thanasis Antetokounmpo’s hard foul?
At this point, the game’s over. It don’t really matter. So, I think it is in the back of everybody’s heads now. it’s over with, so, we move forward and focus on Brazil.

What about the team’s defense?
That’s where we got to hang our hat. We are young. We are athletic. We got a lot of bodies, a lot of talent. We are built for the duration of this tournament. So, as teams start to slow down, we are looking to speed up.

Did you expect such an easy win?
I wouldn’t say … I mean, we always prepare for the worst. We expected to come out and battle, play hard. We were expecting to get Greece’s best shot. They gave us a good shot today, but we won the game.

Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
What was special about the USA’s team defense today?

I think collectively everybody was so locked in. Anytime you play against somebody like Giannis Antetokounmpo, you have to be really locked into the game plan. And the rules, they allow for us to pack in, you know, make it difficult on him driving the ball, try and force him to beat you over the top. I thought for pretty much most of the evening, with the exception of the first play of the game, we did pretty good. 

On Greece’s shooting:
We are fortunate in that regard, but if you look just across the board scouting-wise, there are some guys that had shot well in the tournament, but like kind of collectively, they didn’t really … (Ioannis) Papaetrou, he was pretty much the lone guy that had shot pretty consistently in the tournament and in his previous season. The rest of the guys, not that consistent from three. So, that’s kind of why we wanted to get into a closeout game, where we just loaded up on Giannis and then were cognizant of Papaetrou, and then everybody else, it was kind of link you were closing out short.

Who came up with that game plan?
Coach Kerr had the scout.

Did the team get the scouting report and feel like it was a good one?
Yeah. Everybody’s bought in. You got to believe in the coaches, trust in them. They are all doing their due diligence. You got guys, (Jeff) Van Gundy, a number of different scouts, people that have been working with USA Basketball for a while that are around, that are all giving their input on these scouting reports. And then, obviously, coach Kerr, you know, got a background in the NBA, knows how guys want to be told how to guard people – full transparency.

Actually, it’s kind of funny, they originally gave us the matchups, and they told me I was going to be guarding Giannis, and then Pop (Popovich) called me last night and told me, ‘I just want to make you sleep a little bit easier. We’re going to have Harrison guard him.’ But, it was a collective effort. Everybody really had a chance at guarding him, but it was just about knowing the personnel. So, everybody knows Giannis, obviously, and you play against him in the NBA, but you have to be real familiar with everyone else, too. So, that’s why the scout was so thorough.

On the USA’s shooting:
We obviously want to shoot better. Tonight, especially from 3, we did not shoot good. I think we were seven of 30, something like that, so we have to get better in that regard. I think the ball was moving. Guys were getting open shots. It wasn’t like we were taking bad shots. We still have to hang our hat defensively. That’s where we really feel like and believe we are going to win this tournament, is on the defensive end of the ball. But we know we got to play better offensively and shoot better.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
What’s it like to be undefeated on your birthday?

Not too bad. First time ever playing on my birthday. It’s awesome. To be able to get a win like this from all around play. We came in ready. We put a lot of pressure on them. Obviously, there were times when we made a few mistakes, but we bounced right back and got stops. We didn’t shoot it too great, but that’s where the defense that Pop has been talking about takes care of it.  We got to be able to stay locked in and continue doing this throughout the rest of the tournament, not get too happy with just this one win.

When the shots start falling, with the level of defense you’ve been playing, how good is that going to feel?
It’s going to feel great. When you push that lead from 14 to maybe 25, I think those instances where we were up, even towards the end of the game when we were up 14, we just couldn’t make shots, and they make a few and get closer. For us, it shows a lot about our character being able to stick with it. Not a lot of teams would be up by that much, and then continue to just play loosely. We stayed tight as a group, and we did what we were supposed to do.

Early in game, did you have a little lapse on Giannis that allowed him to get to the basket so easily because after that you crowded him?
It was just a little lapse. At the end of the day, he’s an MVP, so he’s going to make plays. He’s going to hit shots. The biggest thing for us is to not overreact. Obviously, he had the first five, and it’s easy for us to be like, ‘Oh, man,’ and kind of take a step back. We took that challenge head on and give credit to Harrison (Barnes), Jaylen (Brown), Marcus (Smart), all the big guys who really took that challenge head on, and all of us around them, just helping them creating that wall. I think we made it very tough on him. Obviously, I think he had a double-double, but at times we made it tough. 

On the one possession, where you double or triple-teamed him and the ball swung and it was a 24-second violation, was that a big play for you guys?
That was one of the biggest possessions of the game. If you look at their reactions, I mean, focus on the play, but the reactions after that show where our pride is at. We’ve had great offensive possessions, but I think the reaction from the bench, from the coaches, from the guys on the floor. The way we all reacted to that was huge, because that’s where we hang our hat.  That’s what we want to do. That was a big possession, being able to lock in and then rotate out of that. It’s tough to do. It’s not as easy as we made it look on that play, not to give us too much of a compliment.

Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)
What did Giannis say to Jaylen which started that mix up at the end?

We took exception to that hard foul. The game was pretty much over, and he had no way of blocking the shot. At that moment, you got to prepare for injuries, and we wouldn’t want nobody to be injured. We just let them know. It’s a learning moment for him. Because if the table was turned and somebody did that to them, we’d probably be having a whole different discussion right now, and we just wanted him to learn from that.

Coming into the game, what did you like about the design of the game plan of what you guys were going to do with Giannis?
It was a full team effort. We showed a crowd every time he had the ball, every time he touched it. We just wanted to make it as hard as possible for him, and I think we did a good job of that tonight. 

How crazy is it that this team that was put together five weeks ago can play defense this well collectively so soon?
It’s not crazy at all. We got a lot of guys, with a lot of heart and a lot of determination. You put that on the team with a bunch of young guys who are athletic, you get that. We all love playing defense, and that’s the thing. When you get a team like that, it’s not crazy for us. We knew coming in what we could do, and hopefully now everyone else knows. 

Is there a little less gas on offense when playing defense that hard?  You guys missed a lot of shots you normally make … was fatigue a factor?
Nah, it happens. That’s when your defense has to be tremendous for you, and you have to lean on it. And, that’s what we kind of did. We knew coming into this tournament that just what we needed to do. Our shot’s not always going to fall. We got a lot of talented guys on both ends, but at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to defense. 

Do you feel a different sense of pride when wearing the USA on your chest?
By far. We put this team together about five weeks ago. We all came to love one another. You couldn’t tell if we just met each other … some guys didn’t know each other. But, when you put the USA on your shirt, it’s a whole different feeling. You’re playing for something way much bigger. It’s a whole different pride type of deal when you go and get somebody’s back, and you can see it when everybody comes together.

How much does the camaraderie of Boston help your team here?
A lot. Tremendously. It’s ridiculous the camaraderie we have now. And, getting ready to go back to Boston is going to continue to escalate it for us and be successful for us. I think it’s going to help us a lot. 

Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
On tonight’s game against Greece.
It was a very competitive game. Each individual on that team - so much respect for those guys.  But, you know, we played well, and we had a great game plan, and it was a good win.

What was your view of the play on Harrison [Barnes] at the end and what do you think sort of triggered that? It seemed like it escalated a bit, what was your view of it?
The guy plays hard, man. He doesn’t give up, and he tried to make a play, that’s all it was. Guys are competitive, and that’s all it was. At the end, in the huddle, guys apologized and made up, and we can move on to the next game. 

Is there a point in this process when playing for Team USA started to mean more? Was it as important to you when you showed up in Vegas as it is now? Or did it change?
Nothing changed for me. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for so long, and now that I’m here, I’m excited and just trying to do anything I can to represent my country as best as I can, to do what I can to help this team win games. Nothing’s changed for me personally. I’m super excited to be here each and every day, and I’m around the best group of guys possible. So, I’m super excited.

Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs)
Can you talk about the focus on Giannis tonight?
We all know what we he can do. It’s definitely a team effort guarding him. We just wanted to show as many bodies as we could.

Were you up even more for this game because Giannis was on their team?
We knew it was a big game. Obviously, we know Giannis, but the other guys they have are good players, too. So, we knew it was going to be a tough one, and we came ready to play. 

Can you take us through what happened in the incident at the end of the game?
HB (Harrison Barnes) went up … dangerous play. We are trying to protect our bodies, and obviously he could have easily got hurt there. That’s all it was.

It seemed you guys took exception to it and didn’t shake hands after the game?
I think we all shook hands eventually. We were just talking. A lot of us know Giannis and his brother, so just talking.

How critical was it to keep Giannis guessing tonight?
Throw as many bodies at him, show a crowd, team effort. We know what he can do, what kind of force he is, so just trying to make as tough as we can for him.

Did you see the difference in FIBA vs. the NBA?
I mean there is a big difference between the NBA and FIBA. So, each game we’re going out there learning the rules, learning what happens. Each game is a learning opportunity for us, and we’re learning more and more about it.

How do you feel your team is playing against zones?
We got things to work on, but our ball movement and player movement was a lot better today than in the past.



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