Paolo Banchero scored 21 points from the bench, Anthony Edwards added 14 and the USA shook off a weak start to defeat New Zealand 99-72 for both teams in the opening game of the Basketball World Cup on Saturday.
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Austin Reaves each scored 12 goals for the Americans, who went unbeaten in six games this summer – the first five of which were exhibitions. That game was the first to count for the Americans, who are trying to win the world championship for the sixth time and erase the memory of seventh place at FIBA’s biggest tournament in China four years ago.
It wasn’t easy for the pre-tournament favorites: their lead was just 12, with 2:01 left in the third before Banchero scored three points on consecutive possession shots, giving the USA the biggest lead of the night from that point, the Americans retained the control.
Reuben Te Rangi led New Zealand by 15 points.
The New Zealand players performed a pre-game haka – the traditional display of national pride expressed through dances and chants from the entire 12-man squad – while the US players stood at the other end and watched in silence.
The haka worked; New Zealand quickly took a 14-4 lead.
Eventually, however, the US began to figure things out. A 12-2 run leveled the game, Tyrese Haliburton’s 3-point shot 6:58 minutes before the end of the half time put the Americans in the lead, at half time the lead was 45:36 and they didn’t want to fall behind again devices.
The USA could secure a place in the second round as early as Monday when they meet Greece (1-0) in a rematch of a friendly in Abu Dhabi earlier in the month. The Americans won that game 108-86, with both teams holding back some knowing they would be playing for higher stakes in Manila.
Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis said he expected his side’s opening game – a 21-point win over Jordan on Saturday – to be tough. After the game he was asked what he expected from the encounter with the USA
“More difficult,” Itoudis said. “Much harder.”
New Zealand: No player on the New Zealand roster has played an NBA game. US roster players have a combined 49,395 points in 3,454 NBA games, including playoffs. … Finn Delany and Shea Ili each scored 12 points.
USA: Jackson Jr. had a perfect night of shooting – 4 for 4 from the field, 4 for 4 from the line. … The Americans used 10 players in the first quarter and looked for the combination that worked.
The US assistant coaches split their scouting duties during the tournament. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has been hired to do the report for the New Zealand game, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue will do it for Monday’s game against Greece and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has done it for the game against Jordan on Wednesday.
USA have played New Zealand four times in senior men’s competition and won them all. The USA won the 2000 Olympics 102-56, the 2002 World Cup 110-62 and the 2014 World Cup 98-71.
New Zealand: Face Jordan on Monday.
USA: Face Greece on Monday.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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