MANILA, Philippines — The Americans took the opportunity Tuesday to flex their collective muscles, erase the terrible taste of a tough loss and, if only for one day, remind the world who is boss in the business of basketball.
Let’s see if they can now repeat the behavior over the final two games of the FIBA World Cup.
USA smashed Italy on Tuesday, 100-63, in a quarterfinal match in Manila, avenging its first loss of the summer from two days ago against Lithuania. The Lithuanians, by the way, are out of the tournament. More on that shortly.
The Americans were the superior athletes with much stronger basketball skill sets compared to the Italians. They pressed their advantages almost as soon as the pregame strobe light show ended, the 12 Italian fans in the corner serenaded Paolo Banchero with boos and the ball first went skyward. It was the total opposite of every game they’ve played against any worthy opponent.
Team USA will play the winner of Germany-Latvia on Friday in a World Cup semifinal. The Americans have officially eclipsed their seventh-place finish at the 2019 Cup, and are just two wins from its sixth world championship. The program is also a four-time-defending Olympic gold medalist.
Mikal Bridges, a Brooklyn Net by day, shrugged off the sizable Italian-American presence in the borough back home for 24 points in 18 minutes. He was even hit with a technical, for taunting the Italian bench after he drained a 3-pointer in the third quarter — not all bad considering a Lithuanian player got away with sticking his tongue out at Austin Reaves in the game Sunday.
Anthony Edwards, the Americans’ leading scorer for most of the summer, followed up his 35-point game Sunday with three points on 1-of-6 shooting, and it couldn’t have mattered less.
The Americans even grabbed a few rebounds. After being outrebounded in two games last weekend to the point of embarrassment, they built a commanding 51-33 edge on the glass Tuesday. USA also shot 17-of-36 on 3s, again, copying what the Lithuanians did Sunday.
The Americans allowed just 14 points in the first quarter and were ahead by 10 when it was over — a Reaves 3-pointer with 2:04 to go was already their fourth of the game. In the second period, Banchero, who had basically committed to play for Team Italy last fall, only to switch allegiances this summer (hence the boos from the small Italian contingent prior to the game), caught a bounce pass from Edwards and slammed it with two hands for a 20-point lead.
Inside Paolo Banchero’s decision to play for Team USA over Italy: ‘He fooled us’
If that play didn’t put the Italians away, then perhaps this one did. Reaves seemingly came out of nowhere with 43 seconds left before halftime, jumping so high he might have been able to touch the shot clock, and slammed home a missed shot.
— NBA (@NBA) September 5, 2023
Things had gotten silly by the time Tyrese Haliburton, on a fastbreak, threw a lob through his legs to Banchero for an alley-oop. That one made it 83-44 USA after three quarters.
Italy was led by Simone Fontecchio of the Utah Jazz with 18 points. The off-ball actions the Italians ran didn’t fool USA defenders, and they were left to hoist 3s at a hopeless rate (7-of-38 for the game).
In the other quarterfinal Tuesday, Serbia crushed Lithuania, 87-68. The Lithuanians, well, didn’t quite have the same magic they had against the U.S. After starting Tuesday’s game 5-of-6 from 3 (remember, Lithuania made its first nine 3s on the Americans), the Lithuanians finished 9-of-28 from deep.
The Atlanta Hawks’ Bogdan Bogdanović led the Serbians with 21 points. They play the winner of Canada-Slovenia in a World Cup semifinal Friday. Remember, they have made it this far without Nikola Jokić, arguably the best player in the world.
The Serbian team is also playing the rest of the Cup without Boriša Simanić, who had surgery to remove a kidney that was damaged by an elbow to the midsection during a game last week against South Sudan.
Bogdanovic said the team heard from Simanić on Tuesday morning.
“He said, ‘Guys, I’m good, don’t worry, let’s win tonight.’ And for him just to think about us, after everything that happened to him, he united us,” Bogdanović said.
This story will be updated.
(Photo: Yong Teck Lim / Getty Images)