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Quotes: USA Men's World Cup Team 98, Japan 45

  • Date:
    Sep 5, 2019

Head Coach – Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
Where do you think your team is as you finish the first round?
I think we’re getting better with each outing, and that’s our goal.  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.

I saw you talking to Rui [Hachimura] after the game. What were you talking about?
Well, just the time that we spent together when he came for a draft workout.  He came to San Antonio and we worked him out before the draft.  He’s a very personable, intelligent young man and we really enjoyed having him.  It was just fun to reminisce with him again.

Even when the margin got very comfortable, it didn’t seem like you guys lost any focus at all.  How encouraging is that?  It seemed like a very business-like approach for all 40 minutes.
I thought we did a good job respecting the game and respecting our opponent and understanding that, as Jaylen [Brown] 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.

You guys play Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Greece on Saturday.  That’s been finalized.  What is the difference between preparing for Giannis in the NBA and on the world stage in a game like this?
I think that our opinion has been all along that all these players from overseas that play in the NBA are obviously good players or they wouldn’t be there.  Giannis is pretty special as far as good players are concerned.  But when they play for their countries, we like to say that they become super heroes.  They get together and, through their relationships and their views about their game, they just form a team that – they fall in love with each other, they enjoy playing with each other.  And that goes across the board for everybody that’s in the tournament and you can see that.  A lot of them have grown up together and a lot of them have spent a lot of time playing together, and you can see that and it shows.  But as far as preparing, each team is obviously very different. In the NBA, you pretty much know every night the O’s and X’s of what people are going to run and that sort of thing.  But here, every team has a different take on the way they want to play, so it’s actually enjoyable and challenging at the same time because each team is a different war, a different art work to be figured out. It makes it very interesting.

Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Your views on this game tonight and where you think your team is?
I think we have a lot of room for improvement.  Of course, we’re looking forward to the next matchup.  I think we’re focused on us, just trying to get better, and represent our country the right way.

You and your Celtics teammates got an up-close view of Giannis in the playoffs, and I know he was a beast in that series.  Do you think having prepared for him at that level, and some of your teammates being on this roster, does that give you any edge with the short turnaround getting ready for him?
“I guess we’ll see pretty soon, so I’m looking forward to it.” 

Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
How did the scare from the other night manifest itself into what you did tonight?
Obviously, you play with a sense of urgency. 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

Specifically, in the zone offense, what did you want to do differently?
We were trying some different stuff. We struggled the other night versus Turkey in the zone and we kind of put in some stuff, just sort of basic 1-3-1 sort of sets where we just overloaded the zone. I think we did a better job tonight of denting the zone, so we got into the paint whether it was penetration, ball movement, we just had a better pace and I think against Turkey we got a little stagnant and it threw us off a little bit when they stretched the zone.

Do you need to be a little more aggressive with your shot?
I think there are definitely situations – I probably had some looks today where I should have been more aggressive, but sometimes in the flow of the game – the other night we didn’t have everybody play so we’re trying to get guys’ rhythm established. You want to make sure that the ball is moving. We talk about playing with .5 [seconds] quite a bit. Obviously your first thing is shoot but the next thing is attack or get off the ball and move it.

Any significance for you starting a game for USA Basketball in the World Cup?
Yeah, individually I have a ton of pride being in this situation, but at the end of the day whether you’re starting, coming off the bench, playing 20 minutes, playing zero minutes – it’s all about sacrificing for one another. It’s not the NBA where you’re concerned with your stats or this or that. It’s about upholding the gold standard for USA Basketball and doing what you can to do that.

What do you know about Greece and Brazil at this point?
We saw their game earlier in the FIBA round where Brazil knocked it off to win the game. They have a lot of pros, they have the MVP in Greece, guys that we’re familiar with. Like I said earlier though, regardless of who you are playing against in FIBA, every game is tough. No matter who it is, we know that both of them are going to be challenging games for us and our preparation starts now.

What does the team need to improve on most?
I think we kind of got a little careless with the ball tonight. We needed to do a better job of valuing the ball. We’ve talked about it a lot, just how short of a game it is in comparison to the NBA, so we need to treat every possession like gold. We got a little careless and lackadaisical with the ball, so we need to be a little more sure handed.

Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
Given what you went through the other night against Turkey, when you’ve been tested -- you even lost the game against Australia. Do you feel like you’re better off because of that and now when you play a guy like a Giannis or when you see Serbia down the line you’re ready for them?
Absolutely we feel like we’re improving each and every game and it’s been a real special situation. We’re a very different  from teams past but in terms of camaraderie, on the defensive end, that’s where we’ve really grown together quickly. And other stuff’s going to come. We’re going to keep getting better every game, but the unity this team has is really special and I think that’s what makes us who we are. 

How much better do you think you got tonight? So many guys being involved, so many guys seeing the ball go through the rim. Even those little things.
Definitely we’ve improved each and every game and we definitely improved this game as well.

The first round is over so when you look back to the three games, how do you summarize or how do you feel?
Again, we just learned a lot and we’ve improved each and every game. For a team that’s been playing for a month together, or something like that, it’s really special and I think we’re going to just keep getting better and better each and every game.

You guys have been here more than a week. Is it time to go see another part of China?
I don’t mind. Wherever they’re having the games is where I’ll be.

Kemba Walker

Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the focal point. Will he be who you focus on versus Greece?
He is the MVP, but at the same time, they do have other great players on that team. 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.

Did you guys need a night like this?
Yes. We definitely did. It gets a little easier when you come out and play the right way and doing that for a full 40 minutes.

Did you have a feeling you would face Giannis at some point in this tournament?
I knew it was a possibility. It should be fun to go against him

I believe this is the first time an NBA MVP has played against Team USA. How do you feel about that?
It’s just an NBA player. We’ve had many MVP’s on Team USA, so I don’t think anybody will be star struck or anything, especially not me. He’s a great player. I’m not going to kill my guy, but he’s a basketball player just like the rest of us are.

What did you guys take out of this win?
Just come out and play full force from start to finish. The starting group did a great job setting the tone and everybody else just followed.

What did you want to do, specifically with your zone offense, a little bit better than you did the other day?
Just get to out spots a little bit quicker. Be a little bit sharper instead of indecisive.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
How much did you need a night like this one?
I think for us, just continuing to build, obviously having a game the way we had against Turkey, I think it's great that we had it this early.  I think, for us, just continuing to find ways to grow.  We don’t have games like that, we don't have games like this one without understanding you can learn so much from this.  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.

It's an overmatched opponent, sure, but is this the best you have played defensively?
I would think so.  I think from the jump, from the full 40 minutes.  You know, we've had games where we played 30 minutes of great defense, or 35, and kind of let up a little bit.  I think for the whole game we really set a tone, locked in and communicated, and it was really impressive.

You're playing against Giannis on Saturday.  What will it be like for your guys?
Honestly, I think, with all due respect to Greece, I think, it's just like the first three games.  I think for us, just continuing to build.  I think we if we look at it as a bigger game than it is, then we lose sight of what we're focused on.  And I think for us, understanding that he's a great player, he's obviously the MVP, but it's not just him on that team, they have other guys on that team who can really get going and we've got to be able to lock everybody down and pressure defensively and I think we'll be in good shape.

What'd you take out of this? What did you try to work on as the game went on?
Just continuing to be aggressive, communicating on defense, finding ways to stay locked in.  I think for us, if we can just continue to play like this for a full 40 minutes -- I think this is the first game where we've done 40 minutes of great defense and great offense -- and I think obviously even when shots weren't falling, we were still getting back and communicating and that's what you want to see.

Specifically, with the zone offense, what did you want to do better than you did the other night?
I think just being able to come in and understand movement -- that's all it is, movement.  Just finding different spots.  And I think we got it.  And obviously it caught us by surprise a little bit against Turkey but we came in ready for it today.

Did you play more zone defense in the second half?
I would say yes.  We've had practices where we worked on it.  But we really want to work on it just so we have it.  Just continuing to build our defensive repertoire as well as our offensive repertoire.

Is that just a change of pace thing?
Definitely, because teams do it to us, Turkey did it to us, and I think we've got to be able to do the same thing against the other teams.

Can you talk about the Japan team?
They were relentless, man. I give them a lot of credit. Not a lot of teams that I've played against in my life would continue to fight the way they did down that much.  And on top of that, not just them but the crowd.  I was on the bench and made a joke, like, 'man, they haven't stopped cheering.’  I have a lot of respect for that. I think they continue to build.  I think Baba [Yudai], many times he started to run by himself, whether it was the dunk or the 3 or the finishes that he had -- continuing to be the life of that team is really impressive.

Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
Can you please tell your opinion on Japan’s national team?
I feel like they are one of those scrappy teams. They’re going to get after you. They don’t quit. They’ve got a few roles players that we have to look out for. And for the most part they give you a fight night in and night out. They fought hard every game they played and you have to respect them for that.

Next are Brazil and Greece. What is key for you guys?
Take it one step at a time. Take care of business the first night and do what we have to do the second night. Same thing, just go in there and lock in the folks on each team and come out with the same approach we had tonight.

Did the Turkey game definitely help you guys going forward?
Yeah, definitely. It helps our camaraderie, helps our chemistry and shows us all that we are playing for one another.

What did you feel you guys did best tonight and why you had such a dominant performance?
I think from the start we just came out and set the tone. We handled business from the jump and kind of knocked the wind out of them in a metaphorical sense. That’s what we have to do night in and night out.

This tournament is a bunch of steps. This is Step 1 with the three games, now Step 2 is how you sort of approach it and compartmentalize it?
It’s a long journey, so you got to take it night in and night out and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to go out there and play and get better.

Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
Anything special about knowing you're playing Greece and who their best player is on Saturday?

I don’t think special, but the MVP is on that team, of course, but we are just going to treat it as another game. We know it’s going to be tough and the player he is. We just have to be locked in and ready for Saturday.

Offensively, what did you want to do against the zone?
Just be aggressive. Move the basketball. Just make the right play. I thought we did that tonight. Trying to slow it down. At times we slowed down a bit, but when we play a great pace, that’s when we’re at our best.

And the defense? Was it something that’s good to have in your back pocket?
I guess. Something new. Something new for us. We haven’t played much zone, so it gave us the opportunity tonight to work on it a little bit.

There was talk about four Celtics getting together, learning together and building camaraderie. Now that you’ve been together for more than a month, what are some things that you’ve learned about playing with Jaylen and Marcus [Smart] and [Jayson] Tatum?
Well right now I’m just trying to focus on USA Basketball. I know we are all part of the Celtics organization, of course, but I’m just focusing on USA basketball. Whenever we get back to Boston, we will figure some things out, but it’s been fun to just be around those guys. It’s mostly off-the-court stuff I’m mostly excited about. They’re just really cool guys to be around. Really welcomed me with open arms. That’s what I’m most excited about.

What do you do after this game?
Just going to Shenzhen and get ready for Greece.

When you look back to the first three competitions, how do you summarize the first round?
It was great. Great competition. Czech Republic played us great. Turkey played us great, of course -- at one point wining -- and we responded tonight against Japan. We played well.  Most importantly, we stayed together throughout a lot of adversity, which matters most.

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