LAS VEGAS — Anthony Edwards was the last to join Team USA coach Steve Kerr’s starting lineup, but he was first among everybody in the Americans’ exhibition win over Puerto Rico.
Edwards, an All-Star with the Minnesota Timberwolves, dominated at both ends of the court with 15 points, four steals and four assists while shooting 7-of-12 from the field in Team USA’s 117-74 triumph over Puerto Rico in the first FIBA World Cup tune-up for both teams at T-Mobile Arena.
“I was just trying to anticipate where the offense was going,” Edwards said of his disrupting defense. “Just using my defensive skills that God blessed me with.”
The Americans, who next play Luka Dončić and Slovenia in a friendly Saturday in Malaga, Spain, had a number of players stand out in this lopsided affair. Cam Johnson scored 15 off the bench; Mikal Bridges added 14 points; Tyrese Haliburton led all players with 12 assists off the bench and added seven points; Jalen Brunson posted a double-double, finishing with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Overall, there were seven USAB players who scored in double figures.
“This is us playing together,” Brunson said. “We’re still getting to know each other, but we have a lot of high character guys and (winning) is the number one priority for every single one of them.”
In the Americans’ two scrimmages last week against the U.S. Select team, Kerr opened with Brunson, Bridges, Brandon Ingram and Jaren Jackson Jr.
On Friday, Johnson got the nod, and on Saturday, it was Edwards.
Barring injury, what we saw Monday in Las Vegas could very well be the same starters Kerr uses when Team USA begins the World Cup on Aug. 26 against New Zealand in Manila.
With 2021 Olympic gold medalists Kevin Durant and Draymond Green watching from the front row, the Americans used the first half to get going against a Puerto Rican team with two former NBA players — Tremont Waters and John Holland — in its lineup.
Team USA led by six after one quarter and 50-43 at halftime, but were shooting just 2-of-15 from 3 through two quarters, and missed a few noticeable defensive assignments. Edwards scored 11 points in the third period and USAB blew the doors off of the game with a 20-0 run that straddled the third and fourth periods, making sure this one wasn’t a repeat of a few of the disappointing moments in its storied history.
At the 2004 Olympics, it was Puerto Rico that beat Team USA by 19 points for the Americans’ worst loss by point differential. And two years ago in Las Vegas, they lost both Olympic exhibition games, to Nigeria and then Australia.
“You can’t be lulled to sleep by a game like this where you come out and play well and things go your way,” Kerr said. “It’s very similar to the NCAA tournament. Just because you blow a team out the first game, you start right back at 0-0 the next game, and you’re not up in a series. It’s just one game. It’s really important to stay measured and poised and understand that every game is going to be difficult.”
Jackson, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and the player voted by his Team USA teammates as the best of the now-completed training camp, started strong with eight points in the first quarter and finished with 12 points, seven boards and two blocks, but he also struggled with foul trouble. Players are only allowed five fouls a game, instead of six like in the NBA, and Jackson picked up his third foul with more than eight minutes left in the third. He led the league in fouls last season, so this is a development to monitor.
In somewhat of a surprise, Kerr used Paolo Banchero as the backup 5, behind Jackson. Banchero plays more power forward and on the wing for the Magic.
“He’s going to play some 5,” Kerr said of Banchero, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year who scored seven points Monday. “One of the things we really found in ’21 in the Tokyo Olympics was having a 5 that can push the ball in transition and create plays is very difficult for FIBA teams to handle. He can play some 4, as he showed, but he’ll play plenty of 5 as well.”
Waters, who played parts of three seasons with Boston, Toronto and Washington, led Puerto Rico with 17 points. Jose Alvarado of the Pelicans sat next to the Puerto Rico bench but will not compete at the World Cup, as he continues his recovery from a stress reaction in his right tibia that cost him the final 20 games of the regular season.
(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)