US launch Basketball World Cup title defence with comfortable win
by Peter STEBBINGS
The United States failed to sparkle as they launched their bid for a third World Cup title in a row with an 88-67 victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday in Shanghai.
Greece and Australia, both touted as possible threats to a depleted Team USA, also triumphed on the second day of action in China.
Respected US coach Gregg Popovich was forced to name an experimental roster with major names such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry all either injured or unavailable.
This is no “Dream Team” but Popovich still has a team full of NBA players and the reigning two-time champions had too much quality for the Czechs, who are ranked 24th in the world. America are number one and still the favourites in China.
In the absence of James and the rest, much was expected of Boston Celtics All-Star Kemba Walker, who scored 13 points and a team-leading four assists.
Donovan Mitchell, a guard with the Utah Jazz, led the US with 16 points.
After a slow start the Americans, who have admitted they are still trying to really gel as a team, began to showcase their talent as the match ticked to its conclusion and the Czechs wilted.
In the same group, Turkey — prime challengers to the USA in the first round — defeated Japan 86-67.
Greece, who boast “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s MVP for the 2018-19 season, were easy 85-60 winners over Montenegro.
– Nail-biter –
Australia drew first blood in the so-called “Group of Death” with a nail-biting 108-92 victory over Canada.
Cleveland Cavaliers’ Matthew Dellavedova was key for the Boomers, leading them with 24 points after Canada had battled back from a 12-point half-time deficit to lead going into the fourth quarter.
Andrej Lemanis, Australia’s coach, called victory in their opener “a big one for us”.
“It was good to be tested in a game that matters and find a way to hold our nerve, get back together, start playing some good basketball and work our way to what ended up being a good, solid win.”
Australia, who showcased their title credentials by stunning the Americans in a pre-tournament warm-up, began their title bid in Dongguan against a Canada side led by NBA champion coach Nick Nurse but missing many of their biggest names.
In a highly competitive Group H also containing Lithuania and Senegal, Australia led 52-40 at half-time, only for Canada to battle back before running out of gas.
Andrew Bogut had been a doubt going into the clash, but Australia’s veteran centre — booed by the locals seemingly because of a barbed tweet about Chinese swimmer Sun Yang — had nine rebounds and 12 points.