New York Knicks duo Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart turned in impressive debuts to help Team USA open their 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign with a convincing 99-72 win over New Zealand Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in the Philippines.
Brunson had 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting with four rebounds and four assists in a team-high 25 minutes. Hart came off the bench with his signature energy and provided five points and four rebounds. The Knicks and Team USA reserve guard was a game-high plus-28 in 15 minutes.
Brunson scored the game’s first basket but missed his next two attempts as New Zealand seized an early 10-point lead, 14-4, forcing Team USA coach Steve Kerr to adjust.
“[We] Started out slow,” Brunson said while walking to the locker room after the game. “We have to give [New Zealand] a lot of credit.”
Kerr turned to his second unit, which is more suited to a defensive switching scheme than their earlier drop coverage, with Brunson defending from the point of attack and Jaren Jackson Jr. protecting the rim.
Immediately, their bench, consisting of Tyrese Haliburton, Austin Reeves, Hart, Mikal Bridges and Paolo Banchero, quickly changed the pace of the game with their size and defensive versatility to overhaul the double-digit deficit. Team USA took a 19-18 lead heading into the second quarter.
After the Tall Blacks briefly took the lead back, 26-25, on Reuben Te Rangi’s basket, the Americans stepped on the gas and started running away.
Brunson scored five points in the third quarter, each of his baskets giving Team USA an 11-point lead and New Zealand never got close. He even drew a pair of charges from his bigger opponents.
We fought,” Brunson said. “We came back with full energy and put them away in the second half. We gotta get ready to go from the start of the game, but good first step for us.”
Banchero led Team USA in scoring with 21 points off the bench, hitting a pair of 3-pointers at the height of their second-half breakaway. Six Americans finished in double figures, with Anthony Edwards (14), Jackson and Reaves (12 each), and Haliburton (10).
Up next for them is Greece on Monday. They beat Greeks, who are without two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, by 22 points during their warmup games.
RJ Barrett’s Slow Start, Frustrated Evan Fournier
Despite RJ Barrett’s subpar game, Canada beat France for the first time in a World Cup game with a 95-65 statement win on Friday in Indonesia.
Barrett was held to only five points on a horrible 1-of-10 shooting, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turned in a sensational World Cup debut with 27 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Fournier led France with 21 points but was limited to only two points in the second half as Dillon Brooks and Lu Dort alternately hounded him.
“We got our ass kicked,” Fournier said after the embarrassing loss.
France has not lost by 30 or more points since 1963.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Uncertain Future in Milwaukee
“The real question’s not going to be this year — numbers-wise, it doesn’t make sense,” Antetokounmpo said in the New York Times story. “But next year, next summer, it would make more sense for both parties. Even then, I don’t know.”
Antetokounmpo will be eligible to sign a three-year extension worth about $173 million later this offseason. But he’ll only sign if he and the Bucks are on the same page.