FINAL: 🇺🇸 USA 89, 🇧🇷 Brazil 73The top spot out of Group K is ours! We head to Dongguan to take on France in the #FIBAWC quarterfinals on Wednesday. #USAGotGamepic.twitter.com/86pQxPUrf4
The U.S. will play France (4-1) in the quarterfinals in Dongguan on Wednesday (7 a.m. ET). The winner of that game will face the winner of Tuesdays game between Argentina (5-0) and Serbia (4-1) in the semifinals. The Czech Republic (3-2) advanced to the other half of the bracket via a point-differential tiebreaker over Brazil (3-2) and Greece (3-2).
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Mondays game was tied at 33 midway through the second quarter, but the U.S. was able to take the lead for good with five straight defensive stops and an 8-0 run. They led by just four at the half, but slowly took control in the third quarter. Marcus Smart put them up 11 with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the right wing, part of a stretch of 10 straight scores that eventually pushed the lead to 21.
The U.S. had one of its best offensive games of the tournament, shooting 53 percent from the field. Kemba Walker, who had missed shootaround because he wasnt feeling well in the morning, finished with 16 points and five assists. Myles Turner added 16 points and eight rebounds, while Donovan Mitchell dished out a team-high seven assists.
Jayson Tatum missed a third straight game with a left ankle sprain and his status for Wednesdays quarterfinal is not yet known.
“I hope I can play,” Tatum said about the quarterfinal after participating in shootaround Monday morning. “Theres no timetable or anything. Im just trying to get back right.”
The U.S. now has a 58-game winning streak in (non-exhibition) games with a roster made up entirely of NBA players, going back to the bronze-medal game of the 2006 World Championship.
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But is that enough to survive the global powers awaiting as the FIBA World Cup turns to the knockout rounds?
U.S.: Walker, who missed the morning shootaround with an illness, was in the starting lineup. … The Olympic berth was clinched because automatic spots go to the top two World Cup finishers from the Americas region, and the U.S. and Argentina are the lone quarterfinalists out of that group. … Smart, who has twice battled leg issues this summer, limped to the bench in the fourth quarter in obvious discomfort. He was walking normally not long afterward.
The U.S. remains undefeated, exiting the second group stage 5-0 after double-digit victories over Greece on Saturday and Brazil on Monday. Gregg Popovichs team now enters the single-elimination knockout rounds of the tournament, taking on a good and deep France team on Wednesday. A win there would bring a semifinal matchup with either Serbia—whose dominant start to group play ended with a blitzing by Spain on Sunday but still looks like the toughest matchup for the U.S.—or Argentina, led by star EuroLeague point guard Facundo Campazzo and the aging-but-still-potent Luis Scola, the lone remaining holdover from the Golden Generation teams that felled the U.S. in 2002 and 2004.
Beyond that, the U.S. could meet old nemesis Spain—which rounded into form with an impressive thrashing of the Serbs—or Australia, which kicked concern over this iteration of Team USA into overdrive with a pretournament exhibition win that ended a 13-year American winning streak, and who are still undefeated and riding high after a thrilling 100-98 win over France on Monday. However the matchups shake out, it looks like a daunting path to an unprecedented third straight World Cup gold.
But the U.S. can ill afford to start thinking ahead; it can only focus on being its best self the next time the ball goes up. And after a brush with disaster against Turkey in its second game, Team USA has done a much better job of that.
The tournament began with 32 teams divided into eight groups. Each team within each group played each other once. The top two teams from each group advanced into the second group stage. If multiple teams finish tied with identical records, then the first tiebreaker is their head-to-head record against one another in the tournament, and if that doesnt settle the tie, then point differential against one another, followed by overall point differential, are used next.
When the U.S. opened the tournament with a solid win over the Czech Republic, it looked like this teams performance would hinge on both the quality of its defense and star-caliber offensive fireworks from Donovan Mitchell. The latter hasnt remained true: The Jazz guard is averaging just 10.2 points in 25.3 minutes per game while shooting 42.6 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent from 3-point range. Mitchell has remained a vital contributor, though—the U.S. is plus-102 in his 127 minutes, tops on the team—thanks in part to his complementary facilitating (22 assists against five turnovers) and his work on the defensive end.
Kemba Walker & Myles Turner Lead Team USA over Brazil at FIBA World Cup
Defense, on the other hand, has been Team USAs calling card through five games; the U.S. leads all quarterfinalists in points allowed per possession. The defense is ahead of the offense, thats for sure, Popovich told reporters after the win over Greece on Saturday. But thats expected when you have 12 guys whove never played with each other before. Thats pretty easy to figure out.
The U.S. tightened the screws in the second group stage. The game plan against Greece wasnt all that complicated—stay in front of reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo as much as possible and overload the coverage toward him as needed; close out hard on Ioannis Papapetrou, the teams most dangerous 3-point shooter; and make everybody else beat you. You dont have to be all that clever to be effective, though, and Team USA executed well. Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart—an undersized but ferocious fire hydrant, not unlike Brazils Alex Garcia, who flustered Giannis in group play—all hustled to deny Antetokounmpo position and make him work to get free. The off-ball defenders were active, flying around to shut down passing lanes and rotating hard to stay ahead of Greeces ball movement. The attention to detail paid off, as the U.S. held non-Giannis Greeks to 14-for-55 shooting (25.5 percent) from the floor, preventing Greece from mounting enough of an offense to really threaten the favorites.
Oι Αμερικανοί γυρνάνε την μπάλα ψάχνοντας το ρήγμα και μόλις το βρουν, εκτελούν. Πίσω στην άμυνα, αναγκάζουν την ελληνική ομάδα να σουτάρει εκπρόθεσμα. Οι Kerr, Pierce, φαίνονται ικανοποιημένοι. #FIBAWC #USAGRE pic.twitter.com/5SgitVn8ei
U.S.: The U.S. pushed its winning streak in major international tournaments – Olympics, World Cup and FIBA Americas – with NBA players to 58 straight games. … Walker, who missed the morning shootaround with an illness, was in the starting lineup. … The Olympic berth was clinched because automatic spots go to the top two World Cup finishers from the Americas region, and the U.S. and Argentina are the lone quarterfinalists out of that group. … Smart, who has twice battled leg issues this summer, limped to the bench in the fourth quarter in obvious discomfort. He was walking normally not long afterward.
Donovan Mitchell and Team USA battle Brazil in final match of second round
It certainly didnt hurt that Greece coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos (whose usage of his singular superstar came into question throughout the tournament) kept Giannis off the court for the entire fourth quarter to protect and rest him for Mondays game against the Czech Republic, which couldve sent Greece on to the quarterfinals. But you dont have to apologize for the choices of others; you just need to take advantage of them, and the U.S. did, keeping the Greeks at arms length en route to a 16-point win. (Giannis, by the way, fouled out on a questionable call with 5:32 to go against the Czech Republic on Monday. Greece was up by 10 when he exited, and held on to win 84-77 … but it needed to win by at least 12 to advance, so the Czechs move on instead.)
Brazil fared better for most of Monday, with guards Marcelinho Huertas and Leandro Barbosa finding openings in the pick-and-roll, Anderson Varejão getting into the teeth of the defense for layups and whipping passes out of the post, and reserve Vítor Benite coming off the bench firing, drilling four of his five 3-point tries for a game-high 21 points. Eventually, though, the U.S.s small-ball lineups began to tilt the game with a combination of quickness and aggression, stifling Brazils flow to force missed shots and turnovers that could then turn into transition opportunities:
Defense by Jaylen Brown helps spark Team USA spurt that has them ahead 59-48 with 3:44 to play in the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/BIu2qFQtmV
Thats the way this U.S. team has to play—lock up on defense, push tempo in transition, and hunt easy baskets in early offense—because its still a work in progress in the half court. Team USA hasnt been shy about firing from distance (much, Im sure, to Pops chagrin), attempting a tournament-high 32.4 3-pointers per game. The Americans are struggling to connect, though, shooting just 32.7 percent from deep as a team, and theyre still working out the kinks against the zone defenses they could see more frequently in the knockout rounds.
How to stream USA vs. Brazil FIBA World Cup group-stage game
They appear to be getting better at handling those, though. Saturdays win over Greece featured some improved ball and player movement to create better looks, and they more often flashed smaller players like Mitchell and Brown into the middle of the floor against Brazils zone on Monday, removing playmaking responsibility from big men like Myles Turner and Brook Lopez by putting more dangerous attackers in positions to puncture the zone:
One of the big questions of the knockout round will be whether this sort of downsized, uptempo, more-playmaking-heavy attack will stand up to scrutiny against bigger opponents. Can the U.S. afford to rely on Barnes and Brown as small-ball centers and power forwards against the likes of Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, the Aussie duo of Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut, or a monster Serbian frontline led by Nikola Jokic? The opponents the U.S. may face all feature frontcourt players who can bang down low, clean the glass, and step out on the floor to either stroke a jumper or facilitate offense from the elbows. Maybe the U.S. can make up for the size mismatch by leveraging superior quickness and keeping its wings active as off-ball havoc-wreakers, but the run of play may tilt the other way, necessitating more minutes for Lopez or Mason Plumlee, which shifts the U.S. away from the style thats been most effective thus far.
Unlike its predecessors, this Team USA has to consider harder choices and tough trade-offs; unlike the best American squads, its got weaknesses that might be tough to paper over with sheer talent. On that score, though, its not alone. France needed a very controversial Gobert deflection that shouldve been a goaltending call to outlast Lithuania, and then lost to Australia thanks in part to the ongoing brilliance of Patty Mills. Serbia, a wrecking crew through four games, got drilled by Spain, which had previously battled to hold off teams like Iran, Puerto Rico, and Italy. Australias tough on both ends, and has already beaten the U.S. once in the last month, but that just evened the score between the two teams.
FIBA World Cup results: U.S. earns Olympics berth with win
Team USAs not going to suddenly import a peak LeBron or Durant. All it can do is keep smoothing out the rough edges in the zone offense, getting crisper on the defensive rotations, work on getting Jayson Tatum healthy and back into the fold after missing three games with an ankle sprain, and hope that, if their backs are against the wall, theyll be able to dial up a star scoring performance from Kemba Walker or Mitchell when they need it most. The bad news is, the U.S. isnt unbeatable. The good news, though? Nobody else is, either.
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