With a balanced scoring attack and a strong defensive effort, the USA Men (1-0) earned an 88-67 win over Czech Republic (0-1) to open play in the 2019 FIBA World Cup on Sunday night at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China.
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz) led the USA with 16 points; Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings) scored 14 points; Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics) tallied 13 points and four assists; and Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics) had 10 points.
The USA converted 15 Czech Republic turnovers into 22 points, and the Americans committed just seven turnovers for the game.
“It was a very competitive game, physical, opportunity to learn a lot,” said Gregg Popovich (USA and San Antonio Spurs head coach). “The game is a little bit different, obviously from the NBA. A lot of great teams and just an opportunity to get better. That’s the way we look at each of these games, to try and be the best team we can be, and we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re willing.”
The first quarter saw both teams make runs. The USA jumped out to a 5-0 lead and was up 7-2 before Czech put together nine unanswered points to go ahead 11-7 at 5:17. From there, the USA put together a 10-0 stretch of its own, and with Czech sinking a 3-pointer for the final points of the period, the USA led 17-14. Eleven U.S. players saw minutes in the first quarter, and six put points on the board.
“Similar to what coach said, we’ve got to give credit to them for starters,” said Mitchell. “They’re very competitive. They executed really well, and that’s kind of what we kind of expected coming into this tournament – teams to be really connected and chemistry to be at a high level. But, we did a lot of good things. We guarded it well. We have a lot that we can definitely work on, but it was definitely a good start to the tournament.”
The USA came out in full force to start the second period, and the quarter essentially was the difference in the game. With points from six athletes outscored Czech 15-4 to lead 32-18 when Czech called a timeout at 5:50. The teams went back and forth, each scoring 11 more points, and the USA led 43-29 at halftime.
At the midway point, Tatum had 10 points, and the USA was 50.0% percent from the field (18-36 FGs). The Czech was shooting just 35.3% from the field (12-34 FGs) but had a 21-18 rebounding edge on the USA.
“I thought defensively, we were great,” Walker said. “Whenever we slowed down our pace, we were much better. Overall, I think we played really well. We played together. We played for each other. That’s what is most important.”
The USA outscored Czech 23-19 in the third quarter to lead 66-48 with 10 minutes to play. Khris Middleton(Milwaukee Bucks) added five of those points in the third quarter, and overall, the USA’s bench accounted for 31 points.
In the fourth, the USA put up 22 points to Czech’s 19 to bring the game to its 88-67 final.
The USA finished the game at 50.0% from the field (37-74 FGs), including 10-of-26 from 3-point.
Assisting Popovich as USA assistant coaches are Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and Villanova University head coach Jay Wright.
Sunday’s other Group E contest saw Turkey (1-0) upend Japan (0-1) 86-67.
The USA next will play Turkey at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 3 and Japan at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 5, and both games are available to watch live on ESPN+.
Following three first round games for each team, the top two teams from each group advance to second round groups and will play two more games. The top two teams from each of the four second round groups earn a berth into the quarterfinals on Sept. 10 or 11.
Day two of preliminary round action saw Australia (1-0) knock off Canada (0-1) 108-92 and Lithuania (1-0) pounded Senegal (0-1) 101-47 in Group H play. In Group F, Brazil (1-0) defeated New Zealand (0-1) 102-94 and Greece downed Montenegro 85-60. Group G action Sunday saw Dominican Republic (1-0) edge Jordan (0-1) 80-76, while France (1-0) nipped Germany (0-1) 78-74.