Team USA is again relying on key reserves to survive against Montenegro

MANILA, Philippines – It’s against the usual philosophy of Montenegro coach Boško Radovic, but his national team faced an unusual opponent in Friday’s second-round game at the FIBA ​​World Cup, drawing a loaded Team USA roster with dozens of NBA players. So with two days to prepare for the undefeated Americans, Radovic devised various defensive looks and other tools to thwart the team. USA’s scoring attack, which put up 110 points against Jordan on Wednesday.

His strategy came to near perfection in Team USA’s hard-fought 85-73 victory. The Montenegrins stopped their lackluster play, limited their possessions and killed most of the Americans’ preferred fast-break opportunities, even taking a surprise 38-37 lead over Team USA into the locker room at halftime.

“We tried to prepare something, to change the offensive line of the American team a little bit,” Radovich said. I think we changed the game a few times tonight with this zone, 2-3.

“Even, like turnovers after free throws,” the Team USA guard said. Austin Reeves said. “We can’t let it get out and go.”

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - SEPTEMBER 01: Austin Reaves #15 of the United States looks for a pass against Vladimir Mihajlovic #3 (L) and Nemanja Radovic #11 of Montenegro in the fourth quarter during the FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup Group J second round game at the Mall of Asia Arena on September 01, 2023 in Manila, Philippines.  (Photo by Yong Tak Lim/Getty Images)

Austin Reeves looks to pass against Nemanja Radovic (#11) of Montenegro in the fourth quarter during the second round game of the FIBA ​​World Cup Group J at the Mall of Asia Arena on September 1, 2023 in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Yong Tak Lim/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until Reaves trailed by just three with 2:44 left in the contest that the Americans found some breathing room against their arch rival. LakersThe playmaker froze his defender before getting behind the 3-point line to give Team USA a 75-68 lead.

The key bucket was his only field goal of the afternoon, with nine of Reaves’ 12 points coming from the charity stripe. Anthony Edwards was held scoreless in the first half. Jalen BransonThe off-kilter drivetrain had little production.

Reserve ball holder only Tyrese Halliburton Came into the game and had immediate success offensively, drilling a 3-pointer on the right wing as his Montenegrin man gave him plenty of space. Halliburton then made a steal at halfcourt soon after and ran for a two-handed flush that gave the Americans their first lead at 19-18 at the end of the first quarter since a 2-0 lead. bring

“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” said Halliburton, who finished with 10 points and six assists. But what exactly are the FIBA ​​games?

“Anytime someone stops you from doing what you want to do, it’s frustrating,” Reeves said. “Everybody knows we want to go out and run.”

In the last game, Kerr’s biggest adjustment to the starting line-up took place, where he replaced the all-round swingman. Josh Hart to the first group of the USA team instead Brandon Ingram. This time, Kerr’s key change came at the end of the bout, keeping Halliburton and Reeves on the floor for the entire final frame to end the grueling battle alongside Edwards. Mikal Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr

With Branson and Hart watching from the sidelines, Kerr relied on the same five-man Team USA unit that used in the Americans’ controversial exhibition against Germany before the World Cup began.

“It’s a line-up that we trust and love and they played well and with good rhythm and got the job done,” Kerr said.

“It feels different,” Edwards said of playing with Halliburton and Reaves. They are a great, great, great band to play with. They’re a great one-two punch.”

Edwards started to explode after halftime, scoring a team-high 17 points after going 0-for-5 in the first half, scoring eight of Team USA’s first 13 points in the third quarter. He started things off with a jumper inside the arc, then weaved through three defenders and strolled Euro around Montenegro’s All-Star center Nikola Vučević for a nice layup.

Edwards’ final moment came to the defense. Montenegro had a chance to go down the court and force the slugger into another one-possession game when Vučević finished off a rebound with just over five minutes to play. But Edwards was lurking in the shadows of the basket and managed to free the ball and make his way to the finish with ease that ruined the opponent’s building momentum.

“We just need to be more physical,” Edwards said. “A little stronger.”

That was Team USA’s glaring weakness throughout the tournament, where the bigger combination of Vucic and Montenegro outscored the Americans 49-31 and outscored Team USA 22-3 in second-chance points.

Jackson Jr.’s early foul trouble, two quick whistles that benched Kerr for the final 15 minutes of the first half, didn’t help matters. But the overall lack of size up front reared its ugly head against Montenegro, and will be another key element in the Americans’ match against Lithuania on Sunday, in which Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas and a number of other Frontcourt players with NBA experience are seen.

“We’ve got to get stops and rebounds,” Edwards said. “We can’t go against a set defense every time because if they set the defense, they’re going to pack and load the paint.”

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