Team USA began the 2023 FIBA World Cup’s Final Phase on Tuesday by thrashing Italy 100-63 in the quarterfinals. They will now meet the winner of Wednesday’s game between Germany and Latvia in the semifinals on Friday.
Tyrese Haliburton (18 points) and Mikal Bridges (24 points) were the leaders as the Americans recovered their setback to Lithuania in the group stage on Sunday. The United States has now advanced to the semifinals 14 times overall, including four times in the last five World Cups.
Here are five key takeaways from the game on Tuesday and what they represent for the rest of the tournament.
1. USA avoids another slow start
Throughout the World Cup, the Americans have struggled with slow beginnings. In three of their first five games, USA has trailed by double digits, including a 21-point hole against Lithuania in their loss on Sunday.
The Americans knew they had to start strong and strike the opening punch rather than take the first knockdown with a position in the semifinals on the line. And they succeeded in doing so, taking a commanding 24-14 lead at the end of the first period.
Coach Steve Kerr was forced to make some adjustments as a result of starting centre Jaren Jackson Jr. picking up two fouls in the first 2:14 of the game. Paolo Banchero took Jackson Jr.’s place as the Americans started with a thinner lineup.
Jackson’s absence did not result in the same mismatches that the Americans faced on Sunday because, unlike Lithuania, the Italians did not have a significant size advantage over the USA.
With Team USA starting on the court, the game was very evenly matched, but once Banchero was added to the second unit alongside Haliburton, Austin Reaves, Brandon Ingram, and Bobby Portis, USA outscored Italy 14-6 to take the lead by a significant margin.
2. Bridges leads the way
Let’s say you heard Anthony Edwards scored just three points and you didn’t watch the game. You might assume that USA lost the contest or that it was a tight contest. At 20.2 points per game heading into Tuesday’s game over Italy, Edwards lead the squad in scoring after a 35-point performance against Lithuania.
That is where this USA roster’s depth is important.
In a knockout game, other nations’ star offensive player could not survive with just three points. If either Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Luka Doncic is limited to three points in Wednesday’s quarterfinal between Canada and Slovenia, their team will be in serious danger of losing.
The American team rode Bridges’ hot hand as they built a dominating lead on Tuesday. Bridges caught fire in the opening half. Bridges defeated the Italians with fast break layups, pull-up jumpers, and catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in the first half, scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Bridges remained irate even after the break. He extended USA’s lead to 55-28 in the third quarter by sinking a 3-pointer in front of the Italy bench to continue his hot shooting. A enormous triple was made 30 seconds later. Then, with plenty of time remaining to play, he stole the ball, scored a transition layup, added the foul, and brought his total to 22 points.
3. Haliburton puts out a powerful bench effort
After scoring just three points in the team’s defeat to Lithuania on Sunday, Haliburton was back to his 3-point shooting, no-look passing, and gleeful playmaking on Tuesday.
Haliburton packed the stat sheet in his 20 minutes of play, finishing with 18 points, six three-pointers, four rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block. Early on, he showed off his talent at setting up simple baskets for his teammates while also making a few 3-pointers.
Haliburton didn’t receive the foul call he was hoping for in the fourth quarter. In order to prevent a technical penalty, the referee ordered him to cease whining. Haliburton then answered by making three 3-pointers in a row over the course of 63 seconds to help USA reach its largest benefit of 41 points with just over six minutes left in the game.
Off the bench, Austin Reaves played well as well, finishing the first half with a thunderous putback dunk. Haliburton attempted a step-back 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining, but it missed. Reaves then raced in from the left wing unimpeded by any Italian defender and jumped up for the two-handed dunk. Reaves has been a tournament favourite among the crowd and the USA bench, so both erupted in Manila.
The depth of the Team USA lineup proved to be too much for the Italian bench, who ultimately trailed by a score of 57-20.
4. Defence improves with increased pressure
Team USA limited Italy to just 63 points on Tuesday after giving up 110 points in the defeat to Lithuania. Italy only managed a 30.7% from the field for the game, with 16-37 (43.2%) 2-pointers and 7-for-38 (18.4%) 3-pointers. And for a large portion of the game, Italy’s 3-point shooting was even worse as they just made three of their first 27 tries (11.1%).
The half-court trapping defence used by Team USA disrupted Italy’s motion offence. Even when the increased pressure from the USA didn’t result in steals, it did result in deflections and caused Italy to play against the shot clock, which helped keep Italy out of rhythm throughout the whole game.
USA racked up a total of 19 turnovers, scoring 25 points as a result. After being outrebounded in their previous two games against Montenegro and Lithuania, they ended up with a 30-13 edge in fast break points and an 11-3 edge in second-chance points.
Additionally, the USA hit 17-for-36 (47.2%) from beyond the arc as the Italians struggled to make a 3-point goal for the majority of the game. Just 8.6 3-pointers were made by the Americans on 37% shooting average entering the contest.
5. Banchero performing the day’s play
Due to his dual citizenship in the US and Italy, Paolo Banchero was able to select which squad he would play for this summer. The Seattle native accepted an offer to play for Team USA right away, following in the footsteps of his mother, who was a Team USA player. In order to express their discontent with Banchero’s choice prior to the World Cup and this match, Italy had hoped the current NBA Kia Rookie of the Year would play for them.
However, Banchero had little to say about the situation going into Tuesday’s game and chose to let his performance speak for itself. He recorded a plus-27 in a game-high 25 minutes of play, finishing with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block.
At the conclusion of the third quarter, Italy’s Gabriele Procida was caught at mid-court by Banchero and Haliburton, leading to a turnover. This was his play of the day. With Banchero and an empty backcourt at his disposal after the steal, Haliburton ran between his legs and put up an alley-oop for Banchero, who knocked down the thundering dunk just before the third-quarter buzzer.
With a 39-point benefit, Haliburton and Banchero celebrated as they returned to the USA bench. USA defeated Latvia or Germany in the semifinals after winning the third quarter 37-20 to end any dreams of a comeback.
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