The USA Basketball team launched into their World Cup preparations with a resounding 117-74 victory over Puerto Rico in a tune-up game on Monday night. The more gifted American side eventually pushed ahead as many had predicted, thanks to a combination of brilliant performances and a few moments of imperfection.
Anthony Edwards and Cam Johnson led the attack with 15 points each. Mikal Bridges (14 points), Jaren Jackson Jr. (12 points), Jalen Brunson (11 points with 12 rebounds), Bobby Portis and Brandon Ingram (both with 11 points) also scored in double figures for the Americans. Tyrese Haliburton stepped out as well, giving out 12 assists and helping to the team’s 53-27 rebounding advantage.
For Puerto Rico, Tremont Waters was the top scorer with 17 points, while George Conditt IV and Jordan Howard contributed 12 and 10 points respectively.
The game took a decisive turn in the third quarter. What was initially a tight seven-point lead at halftime expanded to a 23-point advantage by the end of the third, largely due to a significant 20-0 run by Team USA.
Edwards Content but Not Complacent
While Edwards’ performance was critical to Team USA’s victory, he felt there was more he could have done. “I felt good, man,” Edwards said in a postgame video. I should have played better, but we’ll be fine. We’ll work things out.” This self-awareness and desire to improve could benefit Team USA as they prepare for the World Cup.
Adding to the spectacle, courtside attendees included renowned basketball figures such as three-time Olympic gold medalist Kevin Durant, two-time Olympic gold medalist Draymond Green, and other notable personalities from the basketball fraternity.
Other Notable Mentions
Austin Reaves, while not the night’s leading scorer, made his presence felt. His performance was so impressive that NBA superstar LeBron James praised it. Similarly, Mikal Bridges was one point shy of tying Edwards and Johnson for the lead in scoring.
After their initial slow pace, trailing at just 50-43 by halftime, Team USA’s defensive prowess came to the fore in the second half, restricting Puerto Rico to just 31 points. This defensive solidity will undoubtedly be a cornerstone for Steve Kerr’s team as they proceed in their World Cup journey.
The Americans are now set for a series of exhibition matches, the next one being against Slovenia in Malaga, Spain. The primary aim for Team USA is to rectify their disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2019 World Cup in China. On the other hand, Puerto Rico is gearing up to face Italy in Ravenna, Italy.