Marcelo Huertas was aggressive, looking to get his team on the board and scored 5 of their first 7 points in the opening quarter. Myles Turner set the tone for the Americans with 6 points to start the game.
The United States finished the first frame with a one-point lead, but couldnt find a way to pull ahead of the Brazilians. While the U.S. shot a blistering 70% from inside the arc, Brazil out-rebounded them 19-15 and outscored their bench 27-12 behind a 15-point first half from Vitor Benite.
Kemba Walker (who was battling an illness) and Turner scored 10 points apiece as Team USA led 43-39 heading into halftime. Derrick White was quiet once again, tallying 2 points, 2 fouls, and a steal in six minutes of action.
USA advances to World Cup quarterfinals, clinches Olympic berth with win 89-73 vs. Brazil
Brazil matched the United States National Team shot for shot through three quarters but lost their momentum after Marcus Smart drained a debilitating buzzer-beater to end the third.
2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup group standings, schedule: Team USA earns spot in 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo
The final period was all USA as the Brazilians seemingly waved the white flag. Although the final score indicated an emphatic triumph for the Americans, Brazil legitimately gave them a run for their money for most of the outing.
White racked up 14 minutes in this one but played a minimal role, scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting. Turner and Walker finished the contest with 16 points each, and Jaylen Brown chipped in 11 points, including a monster jam early in the fourth.
Team USAs FIBA win streak is up to 58 and the win puts them in the quarterfinals as the #1 seed, joining Argentina, Serbia, France, Spain, Poland, Australia and the Czech Republic. It also guarantees the US a berth in the 2020 Olympics.
U.S. beats Brazil setting up a matchup between Donovan Mitchell and Frances Rudy Gobert
Team USA now advances to the quarterfinals of the World Cup where theyll look to become the first nation to capture three straight gold medals at this event (formerly the FIBA World Championships). They also extended their non-exhibition winning streak to 58 games and qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with their victory this morning.
Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown plays center, helps Team USA pull away from Brazil 89-73
Officially official ✍️The U.S. Mens Olympic Basketball Team will defend gold at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo!#USABMNT x @TeamUSA x @Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/T7ajKh8HDx
Next up is France on Wednesday. Les Bleus, as the team is known, has its share of NBA talent, starting with Rudy Gobert, one of the best defensive centers in the world. He wont be easy to deal with.
With that in mind, their path to Gold wont be easy pickings. The United States now heads to Dongguan to face its steepest challenge yet when they square off against world No. 3 France led by Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier on Wednesday.
But is that enough to survive the global powers awaiting as the FIBA World Cup turns to the knockout rounds?
Turner leads USA in scoring in win over Brazil
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.
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.
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.
Team USA basketball vs. France FIBA World Cup 2019: Live stream, TV channel, watch online, odds, prediction, pick
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
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.
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.
Walker, Brown and Smart lead USA against spirited Brazil, win 89-73
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.
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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