The United States Men's National Team completed its sweep of Group E in the first stage of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Tuesday with a 53-point win over Japan.
Team USA now takes its perfect 3-0 record into the second stage as part of Group K alongside Brazil, Greece and the Czech Republic.
After a stage in which it earned a relatively convincing win, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and closed with a profound statement, the Americans have learned plenty about themselves as the tests are set to become much harder.
As they continue their pursuit of gold in China, here are a few takeaways from Team USA's first three games.
All eyes were on Team USA as it opened with a meeting against Tomas Satoransky and the Czech Republic.
It started off close, but the United States would pull away by outscoring their opponent 71-53 over the course of the final three quarters for an 88-67 win. It was far from a statement win, but the Americans clearly had it on their mind to erase the memory of the bitter loss they suffered at the hands of Australia during the exhibition period.
Donovan Mitchell's 16 points led the way as he, Harrison Barnes and Kemba Walker set the tone offensively. Defensively, Team USA was able to hold the Czech Republic to just 67 points and 39.1% shooting from 2-point range.
A 21-point win gave this team the momentum it needed as a bigger test awaited…
A close call comes with a price
Game 2 of Team USA's time in Group E was a big test, to say the least.
Turkey boasted a roster with the NBA talent of Ersan Ilyasova, Furkan Korkmaz and Cedi Osman in addition to big-time EuroLeague players Melih Mahmutoglu and Scottie Wilbekin. Team USA built a big early lead but Turkey responded, keeping things close for the remainder of a game that would come down to a wild ending.
The physicality from Turkey on the defensive end disrupted the United States' offence, making it difficult for Team USA to find a rhythm on that end of the floor. Anytime the Americans seemed to pull away, Turkey would respond and just as it appeared Team USA would take a stunning loss, it found just enough luck to escape with a win.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this close call aside from the team's glaring offensive woes was the injury sustained by Jayson Tatum that would sideline him for at least two games. As one of the team's brightest young talents, Tatum has the ability to give the offence the jolt it needs once he's able to get things going.
The near-loss was certainly a wake-up call for the Americans, who, while pleased with the win, were made aware of what needed to be improved upon.
Ending with a statement
3⃣-0⃣ & top of Group E- USA Basketball (@usabasketball) September 5, 2019
📽️ Highlights from the 98-45 victory over Japan in Shanghai 👇[via @espn x @FIBAWC]
🇺🇸 #USAGotGame pic.twitter.com/ujeAvu0l9p
Fresh off of a close contest, Team USA closed with Japan, a team led by Washington Wizards rookie lottery pick Rui Hachimura.
From start to finish, the United States National Team imposed its will to put forth its most dominant performance of this summer. Hachimura, Japan's best player, was held to just four points on 2-for-8 shooting as Japan managed to score just 45 points in the game on 27.4% shooting as a team.
Team USA, on the other hand, scored a tournament-high 98 points led by 20 points (on 9-15 shooting) from Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown. Kemba Walker (15 points), Harrison Barnes (14 points) also helped pace the offence while Donovan Mitchell and Joe Harris each added 10 points as well.
With the next stage featuring even more staunch competition on the horizon, Team USA's confidence should be at a good level after asserting its dominance.
The road ahead
As the top team in Group E, Team USA moves on to the next stage in Group K where it will take on Greece and Brazil.
Greece, of course, is led by 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who provides a unique matchup problem for any team he lines up against. Through his first three games, Giannis is averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals per contest. Despite having the MVP, Greece didn't finish atop its group, as Brazil used its veteran leadership to earn a tight win over the Greek team.
The Brazillian National Team is led by a few familiar faces, including the likes of Leandro Barbosa, Bruno Caboclo and Anderson Varejao. In addition to the aforementioned three, the roster features Bulls centre Cristiano Felicio, Pelicans draft pick Didi Louzada and former NBA players Alex Garcia and Marquinhos Sousa.
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With Team USA dealing with inconsistency in the frontcourt, both Greece and Brazil present unique challenges with their size and NBA talent on the interior. The physicality that Brazil displayed in its win over Greece could present problems for the Americans as well, as they look to establish a better rhythm, pace and space on the offensive end.
It could come down to guard play, where Team USA has an advantage over each team. Should Walker and Mitchell handle business on the perimeter on the offensive end and the American defence make things difficult for the other team's guards, Team USA could find its groove as it patiently awaits the return of Jayson Tatum.
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