ANAHEIM – (Special to Digital Sports Desk from Official News Release) – There wasn’t a lot on the line Friday night for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. After all, it was just an exhibition game for the world’s top-ranked team.
Still, it was a pretty good litmus test to see what this group of players – including some of the NBA’s better youngsters – could do against second-ranked Spain as it prepares for the FIBA World Cup that begins in two weeks.
With a mix of early determination, good ball movement and excellent defense, the U.S. toppled Spain 90-81 at the Honda Center.
“The wins and losses are pretty unimportant at this time. It’s more about getting better, getting together, a group learning to execute together,” USA coach Gregg Popovich said. “I thought the Spanish team was just astounding with all the offense that they ran the way they execute. The way they read each other, you can really see the experience. We hope to get close to something like that offensively. And it’s going to be difficult in this short time. But it was a great example for us to see that.”
The U.S. had a balanced scoring attack, with Donovan Mitchell leading Americans in double figures with 13 points. Khris Middleton had 12 points, while Kemba Walker (eight assists) and Jayson Tatum had 11 each. Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio, two of the handful of NBA players for Spain, led their team in scoring with 19 and 16 points, respectively.
While offense shouldn’t be a problem with the wealth of talent the U.S. possesses, it was the defense and rebounding that overcame the small hiccups in the Americans’ play. The U.S. – while shooting 54.8 percent (34 of 62), including a scorching 57.9 percent from 3-point range (11 of 19) – held Spain to 40.8 percent (29 of 71). The U.S. also limited Spain’s second chances by holding a 42-20 rebounding advantage, 33 of which came on the defensive end.
“I was most pleased with us defensively,” Popovich said. “I thought we did a good job for a new group communicating with each other. We rebounded well. We haven’t done that to date, consistently. I thought we had a good effort from everybody on board tonight.”
What might have been the most impressive for the U.S. is the balance the team showed. On offense, the ball moved to find the open player and the better shot. Of 13 players who dressed for the U.S., 12 had a rebound, but no one more than six.
“I think a lot of guys are willing to sacrifice for one another,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You want to be on a team like that. You want to be around guys that want to be around each other.”
The U.S. never trailed after taking a 10-8 lead with 6 minutes, 47 seconds left in the 10-minute first quarter, but that doesn’t mean it was easy after that point. The Americans were up by double digits for most of the game, but a couple times in the second half, Spain pulled within eight points.
Each time, the U.S. answered.
The final Spanish push came when Sergio Llull (11 points, six assists) drained a 3-pointer to trim the U.S. advantage to 80-72 with 4:13 left in the game. But Joe Harris made his lone basket of the night, a 3-pointer from the corner, and following a Rubio turnover, Derrick White put in a short-range floater from the lane. The U.S. was back up by 13 with 3:32 left and doused any further challenges.
“We need that,” Middleton said. “It’s not a 48-minute game where you can have a couple of lapses when you know you can bounce back. In this tournament, it’s a shortened game. So we have to be on top of it for those 40 minutes and execute and no mental lapses or anything like that.”
Now the Americans will board a plane and head for Australia, where they will continue training and play three more exhibitions, two against the host country and one against Canada to wrap of pre-World Cup action. Then it’s off to China, where the U.S. faces the Czech Republic in its first Group E game on Sept. 1. The U.S. is aiming to be one of the seven qualifiers from the World Cup for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
The U.S. had just 13 of its 14 players available against Spain. Forward P.J. Tucker withdrew from the team Friday morning due to minor left ankle sprain, an injury he sustained in Thursday’s practice. Also, guard Marcus Smart was not in uniform as he continues to recover from a calf strain. He was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice.
- USA Basketball News