Team USA knocks off Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo 69-53

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Sometimes one stat does tell the story:

Through three quarters, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, despite being the focus of Team USA’s defensive attention, and with the entire defense collapsing on him every time he drove.

Greek players not named Giannis were 8-of-42 shooting through three (14-of-51, 27.5 percent for the game).

That had the USA up by 17 after three quarters. The Greek squad made a push in the fourth — while sitting Giannis for most of the quarter in one of the more bizarre coaching decisions you’ll ever see (they said it was to rest him for the next game) — it was too little, too late as the USA won comfortably, 69-53.

With the win, Team USA is now 4-0 overall, lead Group K and is on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinal knockout round of the tournament (where they will face France or Australia). The USA still has a game against Brazil in the second round of group play on Monday that they need to win to guarantee advancement, although even if they lose they likely advance (the scenarios where they do not are long shots).

Greek and USA players had words after the game, and there was some tension, although nothing got physical. It stemmed from a late game play when Harrison Barnes made a steal and had a breakaway dunk but Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ brother) tried to make a chase-down block. He missed, and instead Antetokounmpo hit Barnes in the head and fouled him hard, causing Barnes to fly through the camera crews and to the ground several feet off the court. It’s a foul that would have been a clear flagrant — likely flagrant 2 with an ejection — in an NBA game but was just an ordinary foul for FIBA (even after a video review). After the game, Jaylen Brown and Myles Turner seemed to express their displeasure, particularly to Giannis. Marcus Smart was in the middle of it all, too.

That should not overshadow what was one of the better wins for Team USA in this tournament, one where the USA can build some momentum.

Coach Gregg Popovich went with more small ball in this one, with Myles Turner getting 14 minutes at center, but Miles Plumlee only had five, and Brook Lopez did not see the court. For more than half the game the USA went without a traditional center and it worked for them, in part because of Marcus Smart’s defense. It gives us an idea of what we are likely to see when games start to get tight in the knockout rounds, Popovich is going to lean on his athletic backcourt and wings and try to get by with less at the five.

This was not a stellar offensive night for the Americans, who shot 36 percent overall and were 7-of-30 (23 percent) from three. Especially when Kemba Walker sits, the USA struggles to generate consistent offense, although by the second half their ball movement had improved. The Greek defense did a good job collapsing on drivers and getting back to the paint in transition, and the USA did not make them pay with threes.

However, Gregg Popovich has wanted defense to be the USA’s calling card and on Saturday it was, holding the Greeks to 32 percent shooting and never letting Antetokounmpo really take over the game in a way he is capable. Greece was isolating Antetokounmpo on offense at points, trying to get him the ball in the post on others (Smart was among those shutting him down that way), but they don’t use him nearly as wisely as Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks (nor do they have the same shooting around him).

Kemba Walker had 15 points to lead Team USA, Donovan Mitchell added 10, and they were the only two players in double figures for the red, white, and blue. That doesn’t mean other guys didn’t contribute — Harrison Barnes had 9 points and 7 boards, Jaylen Brown had 8 points and 9 rebounds, and Myles Turner had 8 points and 7 rebounds plus got some defensive time on the Greek Freak.

Jayson Tatum did not play in this game. His sprained ankle will be re-evaluated before the Brazil game, but with advancement likely it would be a shock to see him play.