USA Men's Basketball Team cruises to exhibition win over Spain, 90-81

August 16, 2019

Photo by: Tri Le/Daily Sports Herald
By Mike Elliott

Anaheim, Calif. -- The USA Men's National Basketball Team eased some anxiety over the quality of its roster Friday night, as the Americans dominated the boards and tightened up their defense to earn a comfortable 90-81 win over Spain in an exhibition game at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

As expected, the talented perimeter trio of Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, and Khris Middleton led the way for the United States, scoring 11, 13, and 12 points respectively.  Walker also dished out eight assists in his 22 minutes on the floor.

The U.S. team entered the game with a litany of concerns, as many of the country's top players have declined to participate in the upcoming FIBA World Cup.  Then this past week, multiple outlets reported that the squad lost handily in a scrimmage to a team of G League players.  To complicate matters further, guard Marcus Smart has been sidelined with a calf strain and PJ Tucker -- a  valuable role player who many thought would help the team with his experience, outside shooting, and defense -- withdrew from the team only hours before Friday's game due to a left ankle injury he suffered in practice Thursday.

Apparently, all the anxiety was much ado about nothing.

USA Basketball showed off the depth of its program, as the same trademark athleticism and uptempo pace seen from the program throughout Jerry Colangelo's tenure, was again on display against Spain.  Even more important was the team's overall effort and effective man-to-man defense, as the U.S. held Spain to 41 percent shooting and enjoyed a massive 42 to 20 edge on the glass.

"I was most pleased with us defensively," USA Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. "I thought we did a good job for a new group communicating with each other. We rebounded well. We haven't done that to date, consistently. I thought we had a good effort from everybody on board tonight."

The United States started off strong and never looked back, hitting five three-pointers and scoring nine fast break points to take a 31-20 first quarter lead.

In the second quarter, the Americans created their share of moments for the highlight reel, as Jayson Tatum drove the lane for a monster "and one" dunk, followed shortly later by Donovan's Mitchell's thunderous jam as he slashed baseline to the hole.  The U.S. would close the half with a 54-41 lead.

Spain made a brief rally in the second half, forcing a couple of turnovers and cutting the U.S. lead to 58-50 in the third quarter on a deep three from Sergio Llull.  However, the Americans responded quickly with a Jaylen Brown jumper, a Kyle Kuzma offensive rebound and putback, and a Jaylen Brown three to push the lead back to 65-50.

Despite two late threes in garbage time from center Marc Gasol to cut the final deficit to nine, Spain would not seriously threaten the U.S. again.  Gasol would finish with 19 to lead all scorers.

"The wins and losses are pretty unimportant at this time. It's more about getting better, getting together, a group learning to execute together," USA coach Gregg Popovich said.

Offensively, the U.S. seemed ahead of schedule, as the team moved the ball, spaced the floor, and shot 55 percent overall while making 58 percent of its threes.

Meanwhile, Spain has been dealing with problems similar to those of the U.S., as Pau Gasol and some of their other big names will not be participating in the FIBA World Cup.  With that absence of star power, and with less depth compared to the U.S. talent pool, Spain will be heavily reliant on guards Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull to lead the team.  Both played fairly well Friday, with Rubio putting up sixteen points and seven assists, and Llull getting eleven points and six assists.
Photo by: Tri Le/Daily Sports Herald

"I thought the Spanish team was just astounding with all the offense that they ran the way they execute," Popovich said.  "The way they read each other, you can really see the experience. We hope to get close to something like that offensively. And it's going to be difficult in this short time. But it was a great example for us to see that."

The Americans will head for Australia next, where they will play three more exhibitions, two against the host country and one against Canada to wrap up their pre-World Cup action.

In the post-game press conference, Popovich stated that the team would take all fourteen players to Australia before making any final roster cuts.

The current roster is comprised of Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings); Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics); De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings); Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets); Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers); Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks); Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks);  Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz); Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics); Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics); Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers); Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics); and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs).

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