For an opening statement, USA Basketball’s World Cup team made an emphatic one.
Anthony Edwards and Cam Johnson each scored 15 points, and the U.S. used a 20-0 run in the second half on the way to rolling past Puerto Rico 117-74 on Monday night in the first World Cup tune-up for the Americans.
Mikal Bridges scored 14 for the U.S., which finished with seven players in double figures and outscored Puerto Rico 67-31 in the second half.
“A great night for us. … I think the guys have really picked up what we’re trying to install at both ends,” U.S. coach Steve Kerr said.
Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 12, Jalen Brunson scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Bobby Portis and Brandon Ingram each scored 11 for the Americans. Tyrese Haliburton finished with 12 assists for the U.S., which held some huge stat edges — 53-27 in rebounding, 31-9 in points off turnovers, 10-2 in blocked shots and shot 56% compared to Puerto Rico’s 37%.
“It’s just us playing together,” Brunson said. “We’re still getting to know each other, but everyone’s really putting egos aside just to win and we’ve got a lot of high-character guys. That’s the No. 1 priority for every single one of them.”
Tremont Waters scored 17 for Puerto Rico, which got 12 from George Conditt IV and 10 from Jordan Howard.
There were spectacular moments, there were sloppy moments, there were botched plays and big-time plays. And in the end, the team with far more talent pulled away.
In other words, it went exactly as expected.
“I think our whole thing is, if we stay solid and really play without turning it over, without fouling, guard the 3-point line and really do a good job on the glass, then we feel like over 40 minutes we can wear people down,” Kerr said.
Paolo Banchero pretty much blocked a shot with his elbow, Edwards’ head nearly hit the backboard on a dunk, Austin Reaves got cheers the moment he checked in — after all, Las Vegas is a Lakers’ town — and those yells only got louder when he made a jumper just seconds into his first stint with USA across his chest.
“We’re figuring it out,” Edwards said.
It was the first of five exhibitions before the World Cup for the Americans, and the only one that will be played in the U.S. The team flies to Malaga, Spain on Tuesday for games this weekend against Slovenia and Spain, then heads to the United Arab Emirates for games in Abu Dhabi against Greece (Aug. 18) and Germany (Aug. 20).
From there, it’s on to Manila. The World Cup will be held in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia; the U.S. will be in Manila for the entirety of the tournament, and opens against New Zealand on Aug. 26, followed by Greece on Aug. 28 and Jordan on Aug. 30.
The Americans are tuning up for a World Cup that, they hope, avenges the disappointment of four years ago. The U.S. was seventh at the World Cup in China in 2019, the worst finish for any American men’s team in a major international tournament.
The game turned into a runaway in the third when the Americans outscored Puerto Rico 34-18, turning what was a seven-point halftime lead into a 23-point edge going into the fourth. The big run sparked that; what was a 74-61 game late in the third became a 94-61 game early in the fourth and the margin never stopped growing.
“A good five days,” Kerr said, now that the team’s stay in Las Vegas for camp and the opener is complete. “And now we’re off to Malaga.”
Puerto Rico: Like the Americans, Puerto Rico will play its group-stage World Cup games in Manila — but in a different group. Puerto Rico will meet South Sudan on Aug. 26, Serbia on Aug. 28 and China on Aug. 30. … Waters spent past of last season playing in France with Boulogne-Levallois — the team that had No. 1 overall draft pick Victor Wembanyama, now of the San Antonio Spurs.
USA: The Americans — since using NBA players for these games — improved to 11-0 in World Cup exhibition tour games on U.S. soil, and 24-1 overall in those games. The loss was at Australia in 2019. … Reaves and Johnson made their USA Basketball debuts. Josh Hart was held out to rest; his national team debut could come Saturday in Spain.
The first starting lineup Kerr sent out this summer: Bridges, Ingram, Edwards, Brunson and Jackson Jr. Kerr cautioned that the starting five is not set in stone.
Kevin Durant — a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a FIBA World Cup gold medalist and a member of USA Basketball’s board of directors — was among those at the game, as was former USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, two-time Olympic gold medalist Draymond Green, Olympic and World Cup gold medalist DeMarcus Cousins, New York coach Tom Thibodeau, Utah coach Will Hardy and New Orleans guard Jose Alvarado.