LAS VEGAS — As an opening statement, the USA Basketball World Cup team made an emphatic statement.
Anthony Edwards and Cam Johnson each scored 15 points, and the U.S. used a 20-0 run in the second half to beat Puerto Rico 117-74 on Monday night in the first World Cup match for the Americans.
Mikal Bridges scored 14 for the USA, which finished with seven players in double digits and outscored Puerto Rico 67-31 in the second half.
“A great night for us. … I think the guys really picked up on what we’re trying to install on both sides,” said US coach Steve Kerr.
Years Jackson Jr. scored 12, Jalen Brunson scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Bobby Portis and Brandon Ingram each scored 11 for the Americans. Tyrese Haliburton finished with 12 assists for the USA, who had some huge statistical lead – 53-27 in rebounding, 31-9 in points from turnover, 10-2 in blocked shots and shot 56% compared to Puerto Rico’s 37%.
“We just play together,” Brunson said. “We’re still getting to know each other, but everyone really puts their egos aside to win and we’ve got a lot of guys with high character. That’s the #1 priority for each of them.”
Tremont Waters scored 17 for Puerto Rico, who got 12 from George Conditt IV and 10 from Jordan Howard.
There were spectacular moments, there were sloppy moments, there were failed plays and great plays. And in the end, the team with much more talent withdrew.
In other words, it went exactly as expected.
“I think our whole thing is, if we stay solid and really play without flipping it, without fouls, guarding the three-point line and doing a really good job on the glass, then we feel like we can carry more than 40 minutes people down,” Kerr said.
Paolo Banchero pretty much blocked a shot with his elbow, Edwards’ head nearly hit the board on a dunk, Austin Reaves got cheers the moment he checked in — Las Vegas is a Lakers city, after all — and those cries only got louder when he made a jumper just seconds into his first stint with USA across his chest.
“We’re figuring it out,” Edwards said.
It was the first of five exhibition games for the World Cup for the Americans, and the only one to be played in the US. The team will fly to Malaga, Spain on Tuesday for games this weekend against Slovenia and Spain, then head to the United Arab Emirates. Emirates for matches in Abu Dhabi against Greece (Aug 18) and Germany (Aug 20).
From there it will continue to Manila. The World Cup will be held in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia; the USA will be in Manila for the entire tournament, opening against New Zealand on August 26, followed by Greece on August 28 and Jordan on August 30.
The Americans are gearing up for a World Cup that they hope will avenge the disappointment of four years ago. The U.S. placed seventh at the 2019 World Cup in China, the worst finish for any U.S. men’s team in a major international tournament.
The game turned into a runaway in the third as the Americans outscored Puerto Rico 34-18, turning a seven-point lead at halftime into a 23-point lead entering the fourth. The big run caused that; what was a 74-61 game late in the third became a 94-61 game early in the fourth and the margin just kept growing.
“More than five days,” Kerr said, now that the team is in Las Vegas for camp and the opener is over. “And now we’re going to Malaga.”
Puerto Rico: Like the Americans, Puerto Rico plays its World Cup group stage matches in Manila, but in a different group. Puerto Rico will meet South Sudan on August 26, Serbia on August 28 and China on August 30. … Waters played in France last season with Boulogne-Levallois – the team that featured No. 1 overall draft Victor Wembanyama, now of the San Antonio Spurs.
USA: The Americans – since using NBA players for these games – improved to 11-0 in World Cup exhibition games on American soil, and 24-1 overall in those games. The loss was in Australia in 2019. … Reaves and Johnson made their US basketball debuts. Josh Hart was laid to rest; his national team debut could come in Spain on Saturday.
The first starting lineup Kerr sent out this summer: Bridges, Ingram, Edwards, Brunson and Jackson Jr. Kerr cautioned that the basic five is not set in stone.
Kevin Durant—a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a FIBA World Cup gold medalist, and a member of the USA Basketball board of directors—was among those in attendance at the game, as was former USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, a two-time Olympic gold medalist Draymond Green, Olympic and World Cup gold medalist DeMarcus Cousins, New York coach Tom Thibodeau, Utah coach Will Hardy and New Orleans guard Jose Alvarado.
Puerto Rico: Visits Italy in Italy Ravenna on Saturday.
USA: Plays against Slovenia in Malaga, Spain on Saturday.