The first required step at the Basketball World Cup for the Americans is now complete. They’re going to the tournament’s second round.
An achievement, technically — but one barely worth acknowledging.
Winning gold is the only goal for the Americans on this end-of-summer trip to Manila, and Monday was just another step, they hope, toward getting there. Austin Reaves led a balanced scoring effort with 15 points and the U.S. topped Greece 109-81 to clinch a spot in the second round that starts Friday.
“There’s only really one thing that gets us excited out here,” U.S. guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “We’ve got to take care of business every night to be able to do that.”
Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards each scored 13 for the Americans (2-0), who haven’t lost in seven games overall this summer. Brunson made all five of his shots, Bobby Portis had 10 points and Josh Hart grabbed 11 rebounds for the winners.
The win, combined with New Zealand’s 95-87 overtime victory over Jordan earlier Monday, ensured that the U.S. is moving on. The Americans will finish group play against Jordan on Wednesday, then play Lithuania and Montenegro — in some order — on Friday and Sunday in Round 2.
“We’re really excited to win the first two and to guarantee ourselves moving to the next round,” U.S. coach Steve Kerr said. “But we just keep on, one game at a time — and, hopefully, six more.”
Georgios Papagiannis led Greece (1-1) with 17 points. Nikos Rogkavopoulous added 14.
“We couldn’t compete the way we wanted to,” Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis said. “We wanted them to feel us a little bit on the court.”
Getting to the second round isn’t exactly a surprise for the U.S., the current tournament favorites and a team seeking a sixth World Cup gold medal. There was no real gold-medal contender in Group C along with the U.S., and the Americans followed up a 27-point win over New Zealand in Saturday’s opener with a 28-point victory that was never in doubt Monday.
But France — the reigning Olympic silver medalist — getting eliminated in Round 1 of this World Cup served as a reminder: Even for basketball superpowers, nothing is guaranteed anymore. And the U.S. took a businesslike approach to get past Greece.
“All respect to Greece,” Brunson said. “That team over there, they play hard, they’re well-coached. A lot of respect for that squad. And for us, we’re still getting better.”
Greece is playing this summer without its best player, two-time NBA MVP and 2021 NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. He said he needed more time to recover from offseason knee surgery.
Without Giannis, Greece went to Papagiannis instead.
The former lottery pick — taken No. 13 in the 2016 draft — played 39 games in the league with Sacramento and Portland, last appearing in the NBA in 2018. He provided a flash of what he could do, scoring 11 points in the first quarter, 15 in the half, and trying to keep Greece’s upset shot afloat.
It wasn’t anywhere near enough. The U.S. lead was 50-37 at the half, and the Americans pushed the margin out to 79-56 going into the final 10-minute period.
“We’re 12 deep on our roster and we’re just trying to stay solid on every possession and put pressure on the opponent,” Kerr said. “We needed to do that tonight. … Eventually, we broke the dam and opened up the game.”
Reaves also had six assists and five rebounds. The Americans improved to 10-1 all-time in senior men’s national competition against Greece including exhibitions (like the one earlier this month in Abu Dhabi), and 5-1 when those games come in what is now called the World Cup.
A weird sequence: In the second quarter, Hart — who was seated on the court at the time — threw a bounce pass to Cam Johnson, who also was seated on the court at the time.
The winner of the Greece-New Zealand game on Wednesday goes to the second round. Both teams are 1-1.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, missed two shots in a 14-second span of the first quarter — both blocked by Jaren Jackson Jr., the reigning NBA defensive player of the year. The first was a shot in the lane off a post-up; the other a dunk attempt in transition.
The U.S. made its first 22 free throws before a miss. The Americans finished the game 30 of 34 from the foul line.
Jordan cannot reach the second round, even if it beats the U.S. on Wednesday in the Group C finale for both squads.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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