Paolo Banchero scored 21 points off the bench, Anthony Edwards added 14 and the US shook off a slow start to beat New Zealand 99-72 on Saturday in the Fiba Basketball World Cup opener for both teams.
Jaren Jackson Jr and Austin Reaves each scored 12 for the Americans, who remained unbeaten in six games this summer – the first five of them exhibitions. This game was the first that counted for the Americans, who are trying to win the World Cup for the sixth time and erase the memory of finishing seventh in Fiba’s biggest tournament four years ago in China.
It wasn’t easy for the pre-tournament favorites: Their lead was only 12 with 2:01 to go in the third before Banchero hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give the US their biggest edge of the night to that point, and the Americans kept control from there.
Reuben Te Rangi led New Zealand with 15 points.
New Zealand’s players performed a pregame haka – the traditional show of national pride expressed through dance and chanting by the entire 12-man roster – with the US players standing at the other end and watching in silence.
The haka worked; New Zealand took a quick 14-4 lead.
Eventually, though, the US started figuring things out. A 12-2 run tied the game, Tyrese Haliburton’s three-pointer with 6:58 left in the half put the Americans up for good, the lead was 45-36 by the half and they wouldn’t trail again.
The US could secure a spot in the second round as early as Monday, when they take on Greece (1-0) in a rematch of an exhibition game in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. The Americans won that game 108-86, with both teams holding some things back knowing they’d play for higher stakes in Manila.
Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis said he expected his team’s opening game – a 21-point win over Jordan on Saturday – to be tough. He was asked postgame what he expected from the matchup with the US.
“Tougher one,” Itoudis said. “Much tougher one.”
The US assistant coaches are splitting scouting responsibilities during the tournament. Gonzaga coach Mark Few was tasked with preparing the report for the New Zealand game, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue will do it for the Greece game on Monday and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has it for the Jordan game on Wednesday.
The even bigger statement from the first two days was made by America’s northern neighbor as Canada routed France 95-65 in a Group H game at Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday night in a group-stage match between title contenders.
Canada have never medaled at the Basketball World Cup, finishing no better than sixth (in 1978 and 1982). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander evidently has his sights on changing that, and his team sent a serious message in the much-anticipated opening night blockbuster.
Canada outscored France 25-8 in the third quarter, turning what was a three-point game at the half into a runaway.
“I’m not surprised,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who finished with 27 points. “We played really good basketball today. We did the right things on both ends of the court. … When we play to our identity and the things we’ve been preaching for the last month…we can beat and play with anyone in the world. We just have to continue to get better and the sky’s the limit.”
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 13 points in that third quarter, and also finished with 13 rebounds and six assists. Kelly Olynyk scored 18 points for Canada.
Evan Fournier scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half for France, which had won all three of their previous World Cup contests against Canada.
“They kind of forced us to do things we didn’t want to do,” Fournier said. “They kept applying pressure and it got the best of us.”