The first required step at the Basketball World Cup for the Americans is now complete. They’re going to the tournament’s second round.
An achievement, technically – but one barely worth acknowledging.
Winning gold is the only goal for the Americans on this end-of-summer trip to Manila, and Monday was just another step, they hope, toward getting there. Austin Reaves led a balanced scoring effort with 15 points and the US topped Greece 109-81 to clinch a spot in the second round that starts on Friday.
“There’s only really one thing that gets us excited out here,” US guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “We’ve got to take care of business every night to be able to do that.”
Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards each scored 13 for the Americans, who haven’t lost in seven games overall this summer. Brunson made all five of his shots, Bobby Portis had 10 points and Josh Hart grabbed 11 rebounds for the winners.
The win, combined with New Zealand’s 95-87 overtime victory over Jordan earlier on Monday, ensured that the US are moving on. The Americans will finish group play against Jordan on Wednesday, then play Lithuania and Montenegro – in some order – on Friday and Sunday in the round two.
“We’re really excited to win the first two and to guarantee ourselves moving to the next round,” USA coach Steve Kerr said. “But we just keep on, one game at a time — and, hopefully, six more.”
Georgios Papagiannis led Greece with 17 points. Nikos Rogkavopoulous added 14.
“We couldn’t compete the way we wanted to,” Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis said. “We wanted them to feel us a little bit on the court.”
Getting to the second round isn’t exactly a surprise for the US, the tournament favorites and a team seeking a sixth World Cup gold medal. There was no real gold-medal contender in Group C along with the US, and the Americans followed up a 27-point win over New Zealand in Saturday’s opener with a 28-point victory that was never in doubt Monday.
But France – the reigning Olympic silver medalists – getting eliminated in the first round of this World Cup served as a reminder: even for basketball superpowers, nothing is guaranteed anymore. And the US took a businesslike approach to get past Greece.
“All respect to Greece,” Brunson said. “That team over there, they play hard, they’re well-coached. A lot of respect for that squad. And for us, we’re still getting better.”
Greece are playing this summer without their best player, two-time NBA MVP of the Milwaukee Bucks. He said he needed more time to recover from offseason knee surgery.
Without Giannis, Greece went to Papagiannis instead.
The former lottery pick – taken No 13 in the 2016 draft – played 39 games in the league with Sacramento and Portland, last appearing in the NBA in 2018. He provided a flash of what he could do, scoring 11 points in the first quarter, 15 in the half, and trying to keep Greece’s upset shot afloat.
It wasn’t anywhere near enough. The US lead was 50-37 at the half, and the Americans pushed the margin out to 79-56 going into the final 10-minute period.
“We’re 12 deep on our roster and we’re just trying to stay solid on every possession and put pressure on the opponent,” Kerr said. “We needed to do that tonight … Eventually, we broke the dam and opened up the game.”
The winner of the Greece-New Zealand game on Wednesday go to the second round.
Elsewhere on Monday, it was the Luka Doncic show again for Slovenia. He scored 34 points and added 10 rebounds and six assists in his team’s 88-67 win over Georgia. In the opening win two day ago against Venezuela, the Dallas Mavericks star poured in 37 points. Klemen Prepelic added 15 for Slovenia, who will advance with a win over Cape Verde on Wednesday.
Former NBA player Willy Hernangómez scored 14 points and Juan Nunez and Santi Aldama of the Memphis Grizzlies each had 13 as Spain – the defending champions – advanced to the second round. The 19-year-old Nunez had seven rebounds and five assists. Spain moved through with the win coupled with Ivory Coast’s victory over Iran.