Donovan Mitchell

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USA finishes seventh at World Cup after 87-74 win against Poland

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BEIJING (AP) — Donovan Mitchell scored 16 points and handed out 10 assists, Joe Harris scored 14 and the U.S. defeated Poland 87-74 on Saturday for seventh place at the World Cup.

Khris Middleton had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Americans, who will head home with a 6-2 record — yet their worst placing ever in a World Cup, world championship as it used to be known, or Olympics.

Derrick White scored 12 and Harrison Barnes added 10 for the U.S.

Mateusz Ponitka scored 18 points, Adam Waczynski had 17 and A.J. Slaughter finished with 15 for Poland (4-4), which was in the World Cup for the first time since 1967.

The Americans put together a 10-0 run in the first quarter to take a 28-14 lead. Poland started 0 for 13 from 3-point range, not getting one from beyond the arc to fall until Michal Sokolowski connected with 1:28 left in the half — and by then, the U.S. lead was 18.

There was little to play for except pride — and the Americans were playing with the realization that, for some of them, it easily could be their last time wearing the red, white and blue uniforms with “USA” across the chest. The roster for the U.S. trip to the Tokyo Olympics next summer is likely to look considerably different than this one.

It had much meaning to Poland coach Mike Taylor as well. He’s an American, who lives in Florida, and mouthed along with the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” when it played pregame.

His team wasn’t eager to quit, either.

Down 17 at the half, Poland made it a very serious game after intermission. Waczynski’s 3-pointer from the right corner late in the third got Poland within 54-47, and Lukasz Koszarek had a 3-point try that would have gotten his team within four with 8:21 remaining.

TIP-INS

U.S.: Kemba Walker (neck) didn’t play, joining Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum (left ankle) and Marcus Smart (left hand) on the U.S. injured list. White started in Walker’s place at point guard. … Timing is everything — the 6-2 record for the U.S. here was better than silver-medalist Serbia (5-4) and bronze-medalist France (6-3) at the last World Cup. But losing in the quarterfinals doomed the U.S. medal hopes.

Poland: The team had three players who played at the Division I level — Slaughter was a four-year player at Western Kentucky, guard Karol Gruszecki spent two years at Texas-Arlington and center Dominik Olejniczak started his career at Drake, then played two seasons at Ole Miss and will play this year at Florida State as a graduate transfer. … Poland started 4-0 in China, then dropped its last four games.

French toast: Team USA loses to France, won’t medal at FIBA World Cup

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Rudy Gobert warned his Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell: “Pass the ball or shoot a really high floater.”

But when he was trying to save Team USA late against Gobert’s France, Mitchell scooped a layup. Gobert tracked it all the way and blocked it.

The arrogance.

The rejection.

An 89-79 loss to France in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals Wednesday ended Team USA’s 58-game winning streak in tournament games with NBA players.

The U.S. will face Serbia tomorrow in the fifth-through-eight-place classification round. Will Team USA care whether it finishes fifth or eighth? The standard is a gold medal, which the U.S. had won in its last five major events – 2008 Olympics, 2010 World Championship, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup, 2016 Olympics. This will be the Americans’ worst finish in a major tournament since at least the 2002 World Championship, where they finished sixth.

Ironically, this is when Americans care most about the FIBA World Cup. The tournament is an afterthought in the U.S. until Team USA loses. A win would’ve maintained an ignorable status quo. Now, it’s a national disaster.

USA Basketball sent a flawed roster to China and felt the consequences. The Americans barely beat Turkey in the first round. They had little margin for error against better competition in the knockout phase, and France just outplayed them.

Mitchell (29 points) appeared as if he might save the U.S. But he didn’t score in the fourth quarter. Even when he was clicking, he stood in stark contrast to numerous other problems.

Kemba Walker (2-for-9 with zero assists and four turnovers) was overwhelmed by France’s perimeter defense. In the rare times he wasn’t, he found even more resistance inside.

The United States’ bigs – Myles Turner, Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee – were ineffective. Going smaller helped create transition opportunities to offset the interior issues, but those problems persisted.

After falling behind by 10 early in the second half, the Americans stormed back to take a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. But they blew it against a France team that knew it belonged. A major culprit: The U.S. shot just 4-for-11 on free throws late.

Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks) dominated both ends. Evan Fournier (22 points) got too much room to operate on the perimeter and took advantage. Nando de Colo (18 points) was more selective, but still found opportunities to do damage.

The United States has already qualified for the 2020 Olympics. Not even France can say that (though Australia beating Czech Republic today would clinch a French berth). But the Americans’ prescription is clear: They need to send better players to Tokyo.

They didn’t for this World Cup, and they reaped what they sowed.

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.

Team USA survives Turkey in OT

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It wasn’t overwhelming. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even injury-free.

But Team USA avoided the worst possible embarrassment – a loss – with a 93-92 overtime win over Turkey on Tuesday. The Americans will advance to the second round of the 32-team FIBA World Cup.

Khris Middleton made the game-winning free throws with 2.1 seconds left, extending the United States’ 55-tournament-game winning streak with NBA players.

The game was tense late, Turkey pressing for the upset and Team USA trying to avoid a historic defeat. Turkey missed all four of its free throws in the final 10 seconds. After the fourth miss, Jayson Tatum grabbed the defensive rebound and pushed ahead. As he pressured the rim, Tatum delivered a clean pass to Middleton to set-up the winning free throws.

Unfortunately, Tatum also hurt himself on the play. Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The United States already looked vulnerable, especially after an exhibition loss to Australia. This U.S. roster doesn’t hold up to traditional standards. Turkey wasn’t even among the top threats! The Americans could lose to any reasonable competitor.

That probably won’t be Japan on Thursday, when Team USA closes Group E play. The United States and the Turkey-Czech Republic winner will advance.

Against Turkey, the U.S. shot just 35% on 2-pointers. The Americans’ highest-volume shooters – Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Tatum – combined to shoot 11-for-37 overall.

Team USA overcame that inefficiency with plenty of effort. The United State grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to 34 Turkey defensive rebounds. Tatum (11 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks) was particularly active.

However, Tatum made just 2-of-3 free throws with 0.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter, sending the game to overtime rather than giving the U.S. a regulation win.

It appeared Turkey would take advantage of the extra time. Turkey had been gaining momentum while overcoming a 15-point lead and even led by five with three minutes left. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (26 points and 14 rebounds) was excellent. Turkey just played with more chemistry, shooting and passing more decisively and getting better looks as a result.

But those four missed free late are haunting. And the U.S. did just enough to take advantage.

No surprise: USA tops Czechs 88-67 to open World Cup

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SHANGHAI (AP) — The first big celebratory reaction from the U.S. bench in this World Cup came just a couple of minutes after tipoff, when Myles Turner blocked a shot at the rim. And with that, the tone was set.

There is an emphasis on defense with this U.S. team, and it was evident from the outset of its Group E opener on Sunday. Donovan Mitchell scored 16 points to lead a balanced scoring night, and the Americans steadily pulled away to beat the Czech Republic 88-67 to begin their quest for a third consecutive World Cup title.

“That’s got to be our calling card,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re going to try to execute better and better as time goes on, but defensively we’ve got to put our money there. It’s what we have to be about to have an opportunity.”

Harrison Barnes added 14 points, Kemba Walker scored 13 and Jayson Tatum finished with 10 for the Americans. Turner had seven rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

“As long as we win, that’s all that matters,” Tatum said.

Tomas Satoransky, the former Washington forward who was traded to Chicago over the summer, led the Czechs with 17 points.

While the Americans’ 78-game winning streak in international games with NBA players ended last month with a loss at Australia, their long winning streak in major tournaments continued. It’s now at 54 games, starting with the bronze-medal game of the 2006 world championships and continuing with gold-medal runs at the 2007 FIBA Americas, 2008 Olympics, 2010 world championships, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

“We did a lot of good things,” Mitchell said. “We guarded it well. We’ve got a lot of things we can definitely work on, and I think this is a good start to the tournament.”

The Czechs scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to get within 66-52, but the Americans weren’t threatened. Walker made a 3-pointer to stop the mini-run, found Mitchell in the corner for another 3-pointer that made it 72-52 about a minute later and the outcome was academic from there.

The Czechs had their highlight run early for a quick 11-7 lead, and the couple thousand of their fans in Shanghai — most of them wearing either white or blue team jerseys, with a few Wizards jerseys for Satoransky mixed in there — were roaring.

It didn’t last long.

After a 9-0 run by the Czechs, order was quickly restored. The Americans scored the next 10 points, kick-starting what became a 29-9 run in all, and led by as many as 16 before going into the half with a 43-29 edge.

And it was defense that carried the Americans. Over a 10-minute stretch of the half, the Czechs went 4 for 20 with seven turnovers.

“The chemistry is building,” Barnes said. “Looking forward to it continuing to build.”

TIP-INS

Czech Republic: This was the first World Cup game for the Czechs since 1982, when the tournament was called the world championship and the country was still Czechoslovakia. That nation went 0-3 against the U.S. in past world championship matchups. … Jaromir Bohacik and Vojtech Hruban each scored 13.

U.S.: The Americans started Walker, Mitchell, Tatum, Barnes and Turner. … Mason Plumlee, the only player back from the U.S. 2014 World Cup gold-medal team, was the only player not in U.S. coach Gregg Popovich’s initial 11-man rotation Sunday. Plumlee got his first action in the third quarter. … Walker made all five of his 2-point tries.