SHANGHAI -- The first game is in the books. The United States Men's National Team's performance in its 88-67 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday wasn't spectacular. But it was solid, and the U.S. showed that it could work through some early offensive struggles and clamp down defensively when it needed to.
Myles Turner summed it up: "We still got a lot of work to do. I think it was a good first game. We got the jitters out. Everybody was jacked up, amped to play. But on both sides of the ball, we still got a lot of film to analyze."
The Czechs don't have the same level of talent as the toughest opponents the Americans will potentially face in the knockout rounds. But the offensive elements -- pick-and-roll play, ball movement, back-door cuts -- that will challenge the U.S. defense were there. So holding the opponent to just 67 points on 75 possessions (0.89 per) is a good sign.
The Czech Republic shot just 41 percent from the field. They were 8-for-18 (44 percent) from 3-point range, but the 18 attempts is a indication that the U.S. defense was properly aggressive on the perimeter.
The Czechs had a moment. It was a 9-0 run that put them up 11-7 midway through the first quarter. They had a couple of nice buckets off cuts in the paint, but the bigger issues for the U.S. were on the other end of the floor, where they went six straight possessions without a score.
Turner missed a contested spin move in the post, Jaylen Brown stepped out of bounds on the break, Donovan Mitchell missed a step-back jumper, Khris Middleton missed a catch-and-shoot three, Mitchell missed a pull-up three, and Turner missed a pick-and-pop, foul-line jumper.
The only look inside in that sequence was Turner's post-up. And as great as the Pacers' center has been for this team through six games, Turner in the post shouldn't be the only source of inside offense.
"I thought we were rushing a lot offensively, just playing really fast," Kemba Walker said about the early offensive struggles. "Maybe the adrenaline was just pumping so much, the excitement of being here and it being our first game. I thought when we slowed down and played with our pace, that's when things went right."
Turner's impact on the other end of the floor made up for his 2-for-7 shooting performance. He blocked a couple of shots early, and the U.S. ended the 9-0 Czech run with his pick-and-roll defense. He first forced Tomas Satoransky to pick up the ball on a drive, and then recovered back to the roll man, so that the airborne Sato had nowhere to go with the ball. The errant pass led to a Mitchell drive in transition. Harrison Barnes and Joe Harris got a couple of more buckets inside and the Americans completed a 10-0 run with another fast break (Kemba Walker feeding Derrick White for a dunk) off another live-ball turnover.
With a clogged paint sometimes making it tough to generate offense, those live-ball turnovers are gold. Another one led to a Tatum three that capped a 10-2 run to start the second quarter. That was when the U.S. really took control.
"We have to be a team that's going to pressure those guys on defense and play in transition," Walker said afterward. "That's who we want to be."
After scoring just 17 points on 20 possessions (0.85 per) in the first quarter, the U.S. scored 71 points on 57 possessions (1.25 per) thereafter. There was another six-possession, scoreless stretch early in the third quarter, though. They can survive two of those against the Czech Republic, but maybe not against the better European teams.
Kemba Walker, post-defender
The Czech Republic tried early and often to post up their bigger guys (mostly Satoransky) on Walker. But Walker held his own. In fact, the Czechs scored just four points on the seven possessions in which they posted against Walker in the first half. He forced one turnover and Turner forced another when he helped inside.
Afterward, the 6-1 Walker was asked if he wants his teammates to come with a double-team when he's being posted up.
"No, I'm good," he said. "I tell 'em let me play. I'm good down there. I can play some post defense. That's on them [if they double]."
Turkey will have some more big guards to defend on Tuesday. Serbia, meanwhile, doesn't have anybody shorter than 6-5 on their roster.
Joe Harris, board man
After getting only 10 3-point attempts off in more than 95 exhibition minutes, Harris got three shots from deep in less than 20 minutes on Sunday. And he knocked the first two down. Whether he's shooting or not, his spacing is critical, but it's still good to get the NBA's leading 3-point shooter some 3-point shots.
VICTORY 🇺🇸— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) September 1, 2019
Joe Harris leads all scorers off the bench with 9 points (2/3 3PT) and the highest +/- on Team USA (+19) as @usabasketball wins its @FIBAWC opener vs. Czech Republic! pic.twitter.com/tiHPOoHUFZ
"The ball was moving a little bit more today," Harris said. "The last few games, we've kind of been tinkering with stuff, here and there. Today, we kind of just got out, played aggressively, and tried to play in attack-mode from the get-go."
Harris hasn't let his shooting define him, though. In almost every game so far, he's had a couple of big defensive rebounds in traffic. He hit the floor for one loose ball on Sunday.
"You're playing in really quick minute bursts," Harris said. "You're not leaving anything in the tank. Everybody's playing very aggressive. You're doing what you can to help the team. And for me, I'm out there trying to space the floor, knock down shots, and do the little stuff, get the 50-50 balls, crash the offensive glass, and crash the defensive glass."
Where are the minutes? Nobody knows
Speaking of those quick stints on the floor, Harris noted that U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich isn't exactly forthcoming with how the rotation is going to play out. Players know what their roles are when they're on the floor, they just don't know when they'll be on the floor.
"Nobody really knows where their playing time is at," Harris said. "We just know that when you're in there, you're busting your ass."
Taking Labor Day off
They won't be busting their ass on Monday, though. Popovich has decided not to practice on Labor Day, and the team will just hold a shootaround Tuesday morning in preparation for what should be their toughest game in Group E. They face Turkey Tuesday night (8:30 a.m. ET).
Around the World Cup
Every team has played one game, and there weren't any real surprises over the weekend, though Germany hanging with France in a 78-74 defeat on Sunday is noteworthy in regard to the future of both teams.
- On Saturday, Serbia and Spain had dominant wins over Angola and Tunisia, respectively. Serbia had 32 assists on 36 buckets (Nikola Jokic was dropping dimes) and Spain had 31 on 37.
- Lithuania was not to be outdone. They beat Senegal 101-47 on Sunday, with no Lithuanian player scoring more than 13 points.
- In that same Group H, Matthew Dellavedova went off for 24 points (hitting six of his 10 3-point attempts) as Australia beat Canada, 108-92. Nick Nurse and the Canadians are going to have to come up with a win over Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania on Tuesday in order to have a chance to advance to the second round.
- Nigeria may have blown its chance at reaching the second round when it blew an eight-point, fourth quarter lead to Russia. The Timberwolves' Josh Okogie made three of his first four 3-point attempts, but had a rough finish in the loss. With the score tied, he turned the ball over on a drive, and then committed a foul (when he couldn't stay in front of a pick-and-roll ball-handler) that gave Russia its go-ahead free throws.
- Puerto Rico came back from 19 points down to beat Iran in a game that featured a wild finish and a Hamed Haddadi clutch three.
- Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura had a highlight dunk over the Bucks' Ersan Ilyasova in Japan's loss to Turkey in Shanghai...
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