At the last FIBA World Cup, Team USA stumbled to an unimpressive seventh-place finish (which was still good enough to qualify for the Olympics, where the USA went on to win gold). This year’s USA squad is young, inexperienced on the international stage, but eager to better that last showing.
Their first tune-up game was promising. At least the second half.
Team USA went on a 20-0 second-half run to pull away and dominate Puerto Rico 117-74 in a game played in Las Vegas (where the USA just wrapped up training camp). In a balanced attack where seven players scored in double figures, Anthony Edwards and Cam Johnson led the way with 15 points each.
The USA got a strong showing from its point guards, Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Haliburton. Brunson finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Haliburton had seven points and 12 assists. The game was close in the first half — Team USA led by seven at the break — but found its footing and looked more comfortable with the international style of play in the second half.
“It took us a while to get going, but when we’re playing the defensive side of the ball and getting stops and turnovers and running, it’s pretty fun for us,” said Jalen Brunson, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “So we just got to try to continue to do that. Just not worry about offense at all, and we’ll be all right.”
Mikal Bridges scored 14 points, Jaren Jackson Jr. added 12, and Bobby Portis and Brandon Ingram scored 11 a piece for the USA.
Of note, the starting five for the USA was Brunson, Edwards, Ingram, Bridges, and Jackson Jr.
Team USA has four more exhibition games. First, they travel to Malaga, Spain, for bigger tests again Luka Dončić and Slovenia, and then a well-seasoned Spanish side. After that, USA Basketball heads to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for games to face Greece (without Giannis Antetokounmpo) then Germany.
Then the USA heads off to Manilla for the start of the World Cup where it will open against New Zealand on Aug. 26. The USA will also play Greece and Jordan in the group stages of the World Cup.