Team USA Coach Steve Kerr Explains Knicks Duo’s 4th Qtr Benching

Steve Kerr, Team USA, Knicks, Warriors

Getty US' head coach Steve Kerr reacts.

The usually reliable New York Knicks duo of Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart watched from the bench in the final 13 minutes as Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reeves sparked Team USA’s gritty 85-73 win over Montenegro on Friday.

It wasn’t the first time Kerr pulled this move, but it was the first in the 2023 FIBA World Cup tournament proper as the games began to get tougher and rougher in the second round. It showed who Kerr trusts the most when the game is on the line.

“Well, I just think both Ty and Austin were playing great… and decided to keep these guys on the floor,” Steve Kerr explained after the game. “It’s a lineup that we trust and like, and they’re playing well in a good rhythm. They got the job done.”

Kerr also used the same closing lineup in their exhibition win against Germany before the World Cup. This Team USA’s flaws — rebounding and struggles against zone defense — reared its ugly head anew.

“It wasn’t our night offensively,” Kerr said. “We’ll look at the tape. I didn’t think we moved the ball well at all. That’s why we got into trouble.”

Knicks Duo Bottled Up

Brunson, who is more tuned to playing at a slower pace, grind-it-out games, was bottled up by the bigger Montenegrins in the halfcourt. Montenegro limited the Knicks star point guard to only four points on 2-of-6 shooting with only two assists against two turnovers. He was a game-worst minus-5 for Team USA.

Despite showing great heart, Hart was too small against the Montenegro frontcourt led by Nikola Vucevic. His streak of grabbing double-digit rebounds came to a screeching halt. He rammed into a wall and could only pull down two rebounds, a tournament-low for the Knicks all-hustle wing after averaging 9.0 in the group stages.

Team USA got into the open court more with Haliburton and Reeves, who played with the faster pace Kerr wanted the Americans to employ. And as Kerr said, they did get the job done, keeping the Americans unbeaten and from what could have been a disastrous loss.

Former Knicks, Stashed Pick Face Team USA

Rokas Jokubaitis isn’t the only Lithuanian who has ties with the Knicks, serving as an interesting sidelight in the anticipated Team USA-Lithuania game on Sunday that will decide the top team of their group heading into the quarterfinals.

Ignas Brazdeikis and Mindaugas Kuzminkas, who had brief stints with the Knicks, are also on Lithuania’s roster.

All three are playing key roles in Lithuania’s undefeated run so far.

Jokubaitis is fresh off a pair of 19-point, six-assist games in their wins against Montenegro and Greece. He is Lithuania’s leading playmaker with 5.5 assists per game and second-leading scorer with a 13.8-point average.

Both Jokubaitis and Brazdeikis are Lithuania’s top 3-point scorers, hitting at an insane 70% rate.

Brazdeikis, the Knicks’ second-round pick in 2019, is averaging 11.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He’s coming off a perfect shooting night against Greece, scoring 18 points on 7-of-7 shots, including going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.

Kuzminkas rounds up Lithuania’s Fab Four with Jokubaitis, Brazdeikis and New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valancunias, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.

The 33-year-old Kuzminkas, who appeared in 69 games with the Knicks in two seasons, is averaging 10.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists for Lithuania. He’s also efficient, making 60% of his shots and 46.2% from deep.

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