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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.

Team USA clinches worst-ever major-tournament finish with loss to Serbia

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Serbia talked big (“If we meet, may God help them“) then celebrated little.

This is how far Team USA has fallen.

The United States’ 94-89 loss to Serbia on Thursday ensures the Americans will finish seventh or eighth in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – their worst-ever finish in a major event. Their previous low was sixth in the 2002 World Championship.

Team USA will face the Czech Republic-Poland loser Saturday in the seventh/eighth-place game. The consolation end of the consolation bracket will provide no consolation. USA Basketball operates on a gold-or-bust standard, and this edition fell way short.

At least the Americans prevented greater embarrassment by making Thursday’s final score respectable. They fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter, appearing listless and heading toward a historically lopsided loss.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes (22 points) and Celtics guard Kemba Walker (18 points and eight assists) played far better than in yesterday’s loss to France. But they weren’t nearly good enough.

Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (28 points, shooting 7-of-14 on 3-pointers and 3-of-3 on 3-pointers) starred for Serbia. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (nine points, seven assists and no turnovers) dictated the game at his own pace.

This matchup was highly anticipated – just not here. Team USA and Serbia were expected to be top medal contenders. Instead, both fell in the quarterfinals.

Though facing major questions going forward, the United States still qualified for the 2020 Olympics as a top-two World Cup finisher among teams from the Americas. (Semifinalist Argentina is the other.) In a much deeper Europe, Serbia – which will finish fifth or sixth – didn’t crack that region’s top two.

Europe produced four teams in the top six – semifinalists Spain and France plus Serbia and the Czech Republic-Poland winner. The Americas’ third team was 13th-place Brazil. Another five European teams also finish ahead of Brazil – Czech Republic-Poland loser, Lithuania, Italy, Greece and Russia.

So, Team USA took the far easier route into the 2020 Games. The Americans didn’t even have to beat Serbia, which must secure one of four remaining spots in a qualifying tournament next year.

A rematch in Tokyo is far from assured. But a sequel between these potential-powerhouse teams could hold far more significance than Thursday’s game.

It’d be hard to hold less.

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.

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.

Team USA Celtics give World Cup roster unprecedented identity

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In eight years in Charlotte, Kemba Walker never had a star teammate.

So, this summer, he went to work putting himself around better players. Walker joined Team USA for the World Cup. He also left the Hornets for the Celtics via free agency.

The twist: Many of his better new teammates are identical in both situations.

Team USA has four Celtics – Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. This is the first time Team USA has so many players from the same NBA team.

In only two other major competitions (Olympics and World Cup) has Team USA had even three players from the same NBA team. That happened in each of the last two Olympics:

Both 2016 Golden State and 2012 Oklahoma City were coming off NBA Finals appearances. (Durant joined the Warriors in 2016 free agency, supplanting Harrison Barnes, another 2016 Team USA member.)

Boston, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing second-round loss.

How did these Celtics get so many players on the national team? It has just been a tough year for USA Basketball to draw players. Walker being Team USA’s biggest star isn’t exactly encouraging. So any good players – including all four from Boston – are definitely welcome.

This is a chance for Walker, Tatum, Brown and Smart to develop chemistry. Every time they talk about their experience with USA Basketball, they sound like they’re taking a shot at Kyrie Irving – who contributed significantly to the Celtics’ toxicity last season. I’m sure not every positive comment about the present is a dig at Irving. But I bet some are.

We’ll see how much this benefits Boston next season. If Walker and his new teammates have good cohesion, the World Cup experience will surely be cited. But it could backfire with fatigue or injury issues. In either scenario, we’ll never know the counterfactual.

USA Basketball seemingly never chose to have a third of its roster comprised by a single NBA team. This was born of necessity. Still, it’s a cool opportunity for the Celtics to turn 2019 into a feel-good year.