There was no drama for Team USA this time around. Two days after their, the Americans took care of business with ease against Japan in a dominant 98-45 victory to close out the first group stage of the FIBA World Cup on Thursday. They scored the game's first 13 points and dominated wire-to-wire against the overmatched Japanese team. The game was never close.
Nor did Team USA need to rely on any single player to get the win. Jaylen Brown led the way with 20 points, but five Americans hit double figures and eight of the 10 players who took the floor scored at least seven points. This was a thorough, team-based thrashing, one that should give this group significant momentum moving forward.
Team USA now advances to the second group stage as the winner of Group E. In getting there, they caught a major break in one of the day's earlier results. Turkey, the team that gave Team USA so much trouble on Tuesday, was knocked out by the Czech Republic in a battle for Group E's other spot in the second group stage. It will therefore be the Czech team that advances alongside Team USA in the next round.
Group F's undefeated winner, Brazil, will be waiting for them there. So will Greece and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who beat New Zealand on Thursday to punch their own ticket to the next round. The rules for that next round are similar to the first, but with one major exception: Team USA will not need to play the Czech Republic again in this stage. They will only face their two new opponents, Greece and Brazil. The top two teams from this new group will advance into the knockout stage
Their first game in that stage will be Saturday against Greece, with their battle against Brazil coming on Monday. Team USA would have been favored in those matchups regardless of Thursday's outcome, but after such a poor showing against Turkey, they needed a win like this to right the ship against superior upcoming competition. That was one of the biggest takeaways from this game. Here are the others.
Team USA has eased into games thus far in this tournament. They led Turkey by only five points after the first quarter on Tuesday, and the Czech Republic by only three points in the World Cup opener. Those sluggish starts made those games far more competitive than they needed to be.
There was no sluggishness in this one. Team USA roared out of the gate to score the game's first 13 points. They led by 14 after one quarter and by 31 at halftime. But they never let up, either. Jaylen Brown pulled out this dunk with his team leading by 58.
It would have been easy for Team USA to sleep through this game. They would have beaten Japan either way. But their near-loss to Turkey seems to have been a wake-up call. The Americans took this game seriously from start to finish, and setting that habit now is going to be important in the later rounds of this tournament.
Depth, depth, depth
Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum sat this game out due to injury, but you never would have known it watching this game. Team USA took full advantage of its depth in this blowout. No player reached even 23 total minutes on the floor, but every healthy American topped 16. This game was a chance for Gregg Popovich to experiment with different players and combinations.
He managed to get his backup big men going at last while giving his perimeter players one last tune-up before things get more difficult in the next round. Depth is Team USA's greatest asset. They are the only team in this tournament with a roster comprised entirely of NBA players. Maximizing that depth is the key to their victory.
Offensive diversity at last
The biggest problem against Turkey? Team USA couldn't make easy shots. They shot 35.1 percent on 2-pointers, relying solely on free throws and 3-pointers for their offense. Those easy shots were plentiful in this one. Team USA made 63 percent of their 2-point attempts. Throw in 14 3-pointers, and Japan never had a chance.
An up-and-down game for Japan's top prospect
He may play for Japan, but one of the players NBA fans were most interested in coming into this game was Rui Hachimura. The No. 9 overall pick of the Washington Wizards was viewed as a reach by most, so seeing him play against a stacked American roster would be revealing for his future NBA prospects.
The results were mixed. Hachimura struggled all game, finishing with only four points on 2-of-8 shooting, but the highlights were there. This dunk was the play of the game even if it came in a blowout loss.
Hachimura is still raw. He probably won't win Rookie of the Year. But plays like this are telling. He has the athleticism and skill to be a special offensive player once he puts it all together. There aren't many rim-protectors in the world better than Myles Turner, and Hachimura managed to make a fool out of him at least once. Down the line, such plays could come with increasing regularity.
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