SHENZHEN, China (AFP) — NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was unable to save Greece as holders the United States reached the Basketball World Cup quarter-finals with a 69-53 win on Saturday.
In front of a capacity 12,000 crowd in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Gregg Popovich’s world and Olympic champions had two or sometimes three players on Greece’s danger man.
Stop the 24-year-old from the Milwaukee Bucks and you stop Greece was clearly the mantra — and they were comfortable in making it a fourth win in four games.
The victory was overshadowed slightly by a skirmish at the end after Thanasis Antetokounmpo, older brother of Giannis, committed a hard foul on Harrison Barnes.
“Apologies only go so far,” said an angry Barnes.
“If I don’t get up, something would have happened (an injury), then apologies is not going to help us in the next game.”
Also into the quarter-finals were Australia and France, but Greece need a big win over the Czech Republic on Monday to advance.
After limiting the Greeks and the reigning MVP Antetokounmpo, Popovich conceded that “defence is ahead of the offence, for sure.
“But that’s expected from 12 guys who have never played together before… each day that we have we hope that our execution can get better and better, and as coaches learn what’s best for these guys.”
There was a buzz of anticipation each time Antetokounmpo had possession and despite close American attention he finished with a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Kemba Walker, a leading light for the Americans in China, top-scored for the holders with 15 points and also had six assists.
This is no “Dream Team.” The US are missing their NBA megastars but they appear to be warming to the task.
They laboured to an overtime victory in the first round against Turkey, but they were never in serious danger against Greece in this second-round encounter.
After a tight first quarter when Antetokounmpo scored seven points, Team USA — whose roster is one of the youngest in the competition at average age 26 — turned the screw.
They were up 13 points at half-time and Antetokounmpo, serenaded by chants of “MVP! MVP!”, missed two free throws in the third as the US stretched into an insurmountable lead.
Bogut booed again
Andrew Bogut was branded “the ultimate professional” by Australia’s coach after he was booed throughout an 82-76 win over the Dominican Republic.
The 34-year-old, a key member of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship-winning roster in 2015, has been heckled and jeered throughout Australia’s successful campaign by Chinese fans angry with a barbed comment about national swimming hero Sun Yang.
There was more of the same in Nanjing, but centre Bogut is relishing it and has not been afraid to fan the flames with sarcastic tweets referring to his “Chinese fans”.
Bogut has been targeted after he tweeted in July: “Swimmers who medal vs Sun Yang should break the podiums with hammers.”
The tweet, which garnered thousands of interactions, was a cheeky reference to China’s triple Olympic champion missing a doping test after a vial of his blood was smashed with a hammer.
Bogut had the last laugh once more, finishing with eight points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Boomers closed on a spot in the last eight.
Asked about the opprobrium directed at Bogut, coach Andrej Lemanis said: “You’ll have to speak to Andrew about that.
“He’s the ultimate professional and has the ability to impact us in a positive manner.”
© Agence France-Presse