USA advances to World Cup second round with 28-point win against Greece

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2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men's National Team v Greece

2023 FIBA World Cup – USA Men’s National Team v Greece

In a tune-up game in Abu Dhabi on the way to the World Cup, Team USA never trailed and handily beat Greece by 27.

At the World Cup, little changed.

While Wednesday’s game was close through the first quarter, the USA’s depth of talent and athleticism wore down the Greeks (who are without Giannis Antetokounmpo), and behind 15 points from Austin Reaves off the bench the USA cruised to a 109-81 win.

With the victory, 2-0 USA officially clinched a spot in the second round of the World Cup (another group phase). The USA next faces Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and 0-2 Jordan in their final first-round game on Wednesday. The matchup to watch in Group C will be Greece and New Zealand, who face each other in a win-and-advance game that same day.

“We’re really excited to win the first two and to guarantee ourselves moving to the next round,” coach Steve Kerr said, via the Associated Press. “But we just keep on, one game at a time — and, hopefully, six more.”

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Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards had 15 each for Team USA, which saw all 12 players on the roster score in this victory.

The challenge for USA Basketball is often continuity — different lineups each tournament with guys not used to playing with each other can lead to one-on-one basketball at times and just an overall lack of chemistry and flow.

Not with this group. While the USA may not have the biggest name stars on this roster, there is a clear chemistry with this group where players accept their roles and buy in. It’s never more evident than with the second unit of Reaves, Tyrese Haliburton and Paolo Banchero — they run, move the ball, play with energy and it changes games. You get the sense they all genuinely like each other.

The USA clearly came out Monday with the intent of playing with more pace, especially the starting unit. The result was the USA winning the fast break points 32-6.

Once again the game was relatively close early, although former NBA lottery pick Georgios Papagiannis had a lot to do with that — he scored 11 of his 17 points on the night early in this one. He was hitting shots in the paint, spacing the floor and his size (7’1″) was an issue much of the night.

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Greece trailed but hung around with the USA through the first quarter, however, as has been the trend with this team, the Americans stretched out their lead when the bench came in.

Three things change when the bench takes the court: 1) No other nation has the USA’s depth and so the talent gap widens dramatically; 2) Haliburton and Reaves tend to play faster and share the ball more, which gets the USA in a flow offensively; 3) With Banchero at the five the USA switches picks 1-5, but with the starter’s it’s 1-4 with Jaren Jackson Jr. in more of a drop coverage protecting the rim. There’s good reason to have the Defensive Player of the Year in the paint, but the USA game flows better with the switching. (To be fair, Papagiannis made the USA pay for this switching strategy so the USA started dropping Banchero when he was out there.)

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The USA pulled away to lead 50-37 at the half behind their most balanced attack of the World Cup or any of the tune-up games. The starters came out with a little fire in the second half, Anthony Edwards got hot, and the USA lead was quickly up to around 20, where it stayed (it was 23 points after three quarters). The game loosened up in the fourth and the USA’s lead grew again.

Through two games, Team USA looks as dominant as anyone in the tournament (Canada has won its two games by a combined 85 points and is the other team appearing on that level, while Serbia, Lithuania and Slovenia with Luka Dončić have had good starts as well). There’s a lot of work to do, but the USA has taken care of business so far and they have the chemistry of a team that looks like it deserves to be the gold medal favorite.

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