Two days after suffering its first loss since 2006, the USA Men’s National Team (3-1) bounced back with an 84-68 win over Canada in the final exhibition game before the FIBA World Cup opens in China on Aug. 31.
Playing at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia, where 19 years earlier the USA men claimed Olympic gold, the United States started Kemba Walker, Myles Turner, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Harrison Barnes for Monday’s final tune-up.
They came out firing, while holding Canada scoreless for the first 2:52 of the game and to just 20.0% shooting from the field in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the USA made 41.2% percent of their shots from the field to help build a 20-9 lead in the first 10 minutes. The USA also was helped by a 18-9 first quarter rebounding advantage, including three-straight offensive boards on the first possession of the game.
In the second quarter, Canada cut the USA lead to just five points, 35-30 with 2:02 on the clock, but the USA closed with an 11-1 run to lead 46-31 at halftime.
Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) and Mitchell teamed up to send the USA into the halftime locker room with some extra energy after Smart collected a steal that ended with Mitchell slamming home an alley-oop from Middleton to just beat the halftime buzzer.
At the midway point, the USA’s Brown had 13 points, Mitchell had 12, and Turner had grabbed nine boards.
The USA outscored Canada 18-16 in the third quarter, while Canada had the offensive edge in the fourth quarter, 21-20, to bring the game to its 84-68 final.
“We are learning a lot,” said USA mentor Gregg Popovich. “This group has never been together before and had a lot to learn. We still have a lot to learn, but game by game, practice by practice trying to figure it out. And, tonight was another good lesson to realize what the mindset has to be going into these games – how physical they are, how you have to sustain the energy for forty minutes.
“It’s coming along, but as I said, there is a lot of improvement we can make, and that’s a good thing. I think we got good potential there to continue to execute better than we are now. So, we competed. That wasn’t a problem, but still execution takes time and guys have to get used to each other. You have to practice, which is kind of difficult as you move forward in this competition. So, the games in a way are practices also, in the sense that you have to try to be as good at what you are trying to get accomplished as possible.”
Jaylen Brown led the team in scoring with 19 points off the bench on 8-of-11 shooting from the field after heating up in the second half. Mitchell, who was captain for the game, and Walker each contributed 12 points and Turner chipped in 10 points and a team-leading 15 rebounds.
“We’ve got a lot of room for growth and it’s going to be good when it comes all together but we have to keep working,” Brown said in a post-game interview posted to Twitter. “The sky’s the limit, we just have to be able to lock in and believe in each other.”
The U.S. defeated Spain 90-81 on Aug. 16, and played a pair of games against Australia in Melbourne in the past week, beating them 102-86 and then having a 78-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, 98-94.
After a rest day on Aug. 27 and practice on Aug. 28, the USA will depart Sydney for Shanghai, China, where it will first play Czech Republic at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 1, followed by Turkey at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 3 and Japan at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 5.
Following three preliminary round games for each team, the top two teams from each preliminary round group advance to second round groups and will play two more games. The top two teams from each of the four second round groups earn a berth into the quarterfinals on Sept. 10 or 11.
“There is a lot of room to improve I think for this team, especially offensively,” said Brown. “Defensively, we came out with the right mindset, and that’s half the battle, more than half the battle, having the right mindset. Now, we got to execute. Now, we got to take care of the ball. We got to rebound and play unselfishly, and we’ll be pretty good.
The final 12-man roster for the tournament includes Monday’s starting five plus Brown, Joe Harris, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart and Derrick White . The U.S. has won the last two World Cups and five overall. If Team USA finishes the tournament as one of the top two teams from the Americas, it will qualify directly to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Photo/courtesy: USA Basketball