MANILA, Philippines—Just by looking at the final score, it would seem like Team USA coasted past New Zealand to open its campaign in the Fiba World Cup on Saturday night.
In reality, the United States had to dig itself out of a double-digit hole and it wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Americans played like the favorites that they are on their way to a 99-72 victory.
Team USA led by as many as 27 points but that was expected of a team featuring an assembly of NBA stars. The real story was the first quarter where the US looked out of sorts and fell behind by 10.
But Anthony Edwards, who established himself in pre-World Cup exhibition games as the team’s main man, and starting point guard Jalen Brunson quickly eased any concerns.
“Just the start,” said Edwards, the Minnesota Timberwolves ace, when asked what has to change for the US on Monday when it faces Greece.
“First group. Myself, I gotta come out better for sure.”
Edwards had 14 points and seven rebounds but committed five of Team USA’s 19 turnovers. He was part of the starting five that struggled to get anything going against a game New Zealand side.
At one point in the opening period, the US already had six turnovers and only two made field goals.
Fortunately for the US, its second unit led by Austin Reaves, Paolo Banchero and Tyrese Haliburton, turned things around.
Banchero, who is the cousin of PBA star Chris, scored a game-high 21 points while Reaves and Haliburton added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“It’s all part of the first game. We weren’t really worried,” Brunson, who stars for the New York Knicks, said.
“We had to pick up the intensity a little bit and you can’t take anyone lightly in this tournament. But we got on track and we didn’t look back after that.”
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