Team USA coach turned to Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reeves down the stretch to pull off a gritty 85-73 win over Montenegro on Friday at the start of the second round in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Brunson was a game-worst minus-5 for Team USA after being held to only four points on 2-of-6 shooting. The Knicks point guard added four rebounds, a steal and two assists against two turnovers.
Hart started for the second straight game but could not duplicate his fabulous run the past two games. The undersized Team USA’s starting power forward only grabbed a tournament personal-low two rebounds while scattering four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Hart was a minus-1, joining Brunson and Paolo Banchero (minus-1) as the only American players that netted negative in the plus-minus column.
Brunson and Hart left the game with still 3:27 remaining in the third quarter, with Team USA clinging to a very slim 52-51 lead. Reeves and Haliburton quickly picked up the pace in Team USA’s 9-4 closing run.
The bigger and more rugged Montenegrins slowed down the dizzying pace of the Americans, cutting off the Americans’ fastbreak opportunities and inside attacks with a 2-3 zone defense. They controlled the tempo by outrebounding Team USA 49-31. The Americans got crushed on the offensive glass, 23-8, which allowed the Montenegrins to hang around with a 22-3 second-chance points advantage.
The game hung in the balance until Reeves hit a stepback 3-pointer with 2:44 left, giving Team USA a 75-68 cushion. Consecutive assists by Haliburton to Mikal Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., who converted his free throws, put the game away.
Haliburton finished with a game-high six assists on top of 10 points, two rebounds and two steals, while Reeves was Team USA’s second-leading scorer with 12 next to Anthony Edwards’ 17 points. The Los Angeles Lakers’ fan-favorite made a living at the stripes on 9-of-11 free throw shooting while adding three swipes, two boards and two dimes.
Rokas Jokubaitis Looks Forward to Face-off vs. Knicks Duo
Brunson and Hart will have a chance to bounce back against the Knicks’ draft-and-stash guard Rokas Jokubaitis and the rest of the bigger and more physical Lithuanians.
Jokubaitis has circled Sunday’s matchup against Team USA in the second round of the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
“Everybody knows the situation,” Jokubaitis told Eurohoops after leading Lithuania to a sweep of Group D.
The Knicks have kept Jokubaitis in Europe after selecting the 6-foot-4 Lithuanian point guard as the 34th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s eager to prove his mettle against the Knicks incumbent guards in Team USA’s roster.
“[Team USA] have two New York Knicks players, [Josh] Hart and [Jalen] Brunson. It will be a fun matchup,” Jokubaitis said. “To play against the United States, it’s a great challenge and I’m waiting. I’m looking forward to it, and we’ll see what we can do against them.”
Evan Fournier Back to Reality Soon
Disgruntled Knicks guard Evan Fournier‘s 2023 FIBA World Cup run is coming to a close. Soon, he’ll be back facing the harsh reality of his NBA career that was marred by his removal from the Knicks rotation last season.
“As you know, it’s not in my hands. If the Knicks want to keep me, I’ll have to stay. If they want to trade me, I’ll have to go,” Fournier told Eurohoops.
Fournier has one more game left in the World Cup against Côte d’Ivoire after France got eliminated from the medal round. He is coming off a two-point performance in France’s 82-55 drubbing of Iran on Thursday.