Manila, Philippines – The Americans didn’t hit the ball very well, the ball wasn’t moving as fast as usual from teammate to teammate, and they definitely didn’t bounce.
Going forward, their underdog opponent devised an excellent game plan and almost executed it to perfection.
But it took a little time for Montenegro to upset Team USA, and they didn’t have that.
Anthony Edwardsafter securing team USA wins in the next two games, scored all 17 of its points in the second half, Austin Reeves Hit 3 in time and the Americans beat Montenegro 85-73 in the FIBA World Cup second round match.
Edwards, who remains the team’s top scorer in the cup, overcame the negative start 0 out of 5 in the first half, which ended with Montenegro leading 39-38.
“I felt like I let my team down in the first half,” Edwards said. “For example, I wasn’t aggressive, I stopped shooting after I went 0 to 5, so it’s things I don’t usually do. So I had to talk to myself in the locker room to be able to move forward.
The Americans, who secured a spot in the quarterfinals with Lithuania’s victory over Greece on Friday, will play Lithuania at 8:40 a.m. ET on Sunday.
Edwards hit his first home run at 9:25 in the third quarter and scored again on the ensuing possession. He finished the period with 10 points, clearly on his way after Stern gave himself away, and finished the game with 7 of 16 shooting with three rebounds and four turnovers.
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The match was still tense until there were less than three minutes left. Reeves, who scored 12 points overall, beat 3 with 2:48 remaining to take a 75-68 lead – the largest lead for the USA up to that point. He gave the “Ice in the Veins” dance as the bullet rumbled, and he wasn’t kidding. With the way Montenegro kept the lead thanks to the massive advantage on the glass and timely baskets from the NBA All-Star team, Chicago Bulls big Nikola VucevichReeves’ shot was decisive.
“Obviously it was a big shot,” said Reeves. “It’s one of those games (where) if I go in, I look good. If I don’t, you know, everyone looks at me sideways.
within two minutes, Garren Jackson JrSkyhook’s hook, Mikal Bridges position, and Edwards’ 2-footer put this out of reach. Jackson, who struggled seriously in the first half, finished with 11 points but didn’t rebound. Bridges scored 10 points, as he did Therese Halliburtonwho led with six assists off the bench.
It was Halliburton instead Galen Bronson which Team USA head coach Steve Kerr was on the court for the final minutes.
“I felt like both Tai and Austin played great,” Kerr said. “We went back to Ant and JJ and decided to keep these guys on the ground. And it’s a good squad. I think we have this squad against Germany (in promotion season) if I’m not mistaken. So, it’s a squad we trust and we like, and they played well and with a good rhythm they’ve done.” the mission.
Now, for the massacre.
It starts with Montenegro and Vucevic, who finished the season with 18 points and 16 rebounds. Perhaps these are flashy and expected numbers. He is the only current NBA player on his team and a two-time All-Star.
What could not have happened (but it did) was the overall superiority of Montenegro 49-31 on the glass. Vučević’s team had 22 second chance points. He sought to use his distinct size advantage (Josh Hart, who’s 6-foot-5, started at the four) and attacked at the post, which got Jackson in trouble in the first quarter.
The only other scorer for Montenegro in double figures was Youngstown State alum Kendrick Perry (14 points), but had it not been for a huge 22 turnovers (the Halliburton-Reeves-Hart pressure had something to do with it), he might have pulled off the biggest upset. In the history of basketball in the country.
“I knew we were going to win,” Edwards said, acknowledging that Wednesday’s guarantee crossed his mind when the game was close. “Yes sir. I knew we were going, I knew we were going to win from the start. I mean they made a lot of shots.”
Well, no, in fact, Montenegro scored just as many field goals as Edwards’ team. The Americans finished 5-of-19 3-point shooting but were only 1-of-9 in the first half. They assisted on 19 of 30 field goals, but the ball stuck more in Edwards’ hands, and on the post, than Kerr, who praised the past ball movement of Team USA, was used to. They also missed 10 of their 30 shots fouled, much to the chagrin of USA shooting expert and travel consultant Chip England.
“They’re a tough team to play against,” Reeves said. “They are trying to spoil the game. They are trying to slow it down, make it a low possession game, which is the opposite of what we want to do. So we had to figure that out in the second half and make big attacks all the way through.
“It was good for us to play one of these games and be in difficult situations so that we know how to deal and play under such adversity.”
Paolo Panchero (8 points, 4 rebounds) A wedged right-hander due to a thumb injury he sustained against Greece in the first round. Bobby Portis watched the extended minutes but only hit 1 out of 6.
The Americans now lead 4-0, and the worst they can do is finish 4-1 in two rounds. In the event they lose to Lithuania, the USA team will win a tiebreaker over Greece due to their victory in the first round. By losing on Friday, Montenegro was eliminated from contention for the tournament.
But had the US lost this Friday, tiebreaker chaos might have ensued. And remember, qualification for the Olympics is at stake in the World Cup, too. The USA team has to finish in the top two of all teams from the two American continents in the cup, and at the moment Canada, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Brazil are still here.
So, yeah, we’d better work on those boards. And those 3s. and free throws.
“I thought Montenegro was great,” Kerr said. “This is a really well-coached team. They had their game plan. Everyone knew their roles and executed it. I think they got (23) attacking boards, and tried to bomb us inside. But I’m proud of our guys. Our night wasn’t attacking.
“We’ll look at the tape. I didn’t think we moved the ball well at all, and that’s why we got into the trouble that we did. But these games are played, and you have to be able to fight through them, and I think our guys did a great job with that.
(Photo by Austin Reeves and Anthony Edwards: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
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