The first necessary step in the Basketball World Cup has now been completed for the Americans. They are entering the second round of the tournament.
Technically an achievement, but hardly worth recognizing.
Winning gold is the Americans’ only goal on this end-of-summer trip to Manila, and Monday was, they hope, just another step on the way there. Austin Reaves led an even score with 15 points and the US defeated Greece 109-81 to secure a spot in the second round starting Friday.
“There’s only one thing out here that we’re really excited about,” said US Guard Tyrese Haliburton. “To be able to do that, we have to take care of the business every night.”
Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards each scored 13 goals for the Americans (2-0), who have gone seven unbeaten games this summer. Brunson made all five of his shots, Bobby Portis had 10 points, and Josh Hart snagged 11 rebounds for the winning goal.
The victory, coupled with New Zealand’s 95-87 overtime win over Jordan on Monday, ensured the USA went on. The Americans finish Wednesday’s group game against Jordan and then play Lithuania and Montenegro in Round 2 on Friday and Sunday – in a specific order.
“We’re very happy to win the first two games and secure a place in the next round,” said US coach Steve Kerr. “But we’re just going to keep going, one game at a time – and hopefully six more.”
Georgios Papagiannis led Greece (1-1) with 17 points. Nikos Rogkavopoulous added 14.
“We couldn’t keep up the way we wanted,” said Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis. “We wanted them to feel us a little bit on the pitch.”
Reaching the second round comes as no surprise to USA, the current tournament favorites and a team hoping for a sixth World Championship gold medal. Other than the USA, there was no real contender for the gold medal in Group C, and the Americans followed a 27-point win over New Zealand in Saturday’s opener with a 28-point win that was never questioned on Monday.
But the elimination of France – the reigning Olympic silver medalist in Round 1 of this World Cup – was a reminder: even for basketball superpowers, there are no guarantees anymore. And the US acted businesslike to get past Greece.
“All respect to Greece,” Brunson said. “The team over there is playing hard and is well trained. I have great respect for this team. And we keep getting better.”
Greece is playing without its star player this summer, two-time NBA MVP and 2021 NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. He said he needs more time to recover from off-season knee surgery.
Without Giannis, Greece went to Papagiannis instead.
The former lottery pick — drafted 13th in the 2016 draft — played 39 games in the league with Sacramento and Portland, most recently in 2018 in the NBA. Showing what he can do, he scored 11 points in the first quarter, 15 at half-time, trying to keep up Greece’s surprise shot.
It wasn’t nearly enough. At half-time, the USA was 50-37 ahead, and the Americans extended the lead to 79-56 by the last 10 minutes.
“We’re twelve players behind us and we’re just trying to be stable with every possession and put pressure on the opposition,” Kerr said. “We had to do that tonight. … Eventually we broke the dam and opened the game.”
Reaves also had six assists and five rebounds. The Americans improved to 10-1 all-time in domestic seniors’ competition against Greece, including clashes (such as in Abu Dhabi earlier this month), and 5-1 when those games are played as part of tonight’s World Cup.
An odd sequence: In the second quarter, Hart – who was on the field at the time – threw a bounce pass to Cam Johnson, who was also on the field at the time.
The winner of Wednesday’s Greece-New Zealand match advances to the second round. Both teams are 1:1.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, missed two shots within 14 seconds of the first quarter – both blocked by reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. The first was a shot down the lane after a post-up; the other was a dunk attempt in transition.
The USA managed their first 22 free throws before a miss. The Americans ended the game with 30 points from 34 at the foul line.
Jordan can’t reach the second round even though both sides beat the USA in the Group C final on Wednesday.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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