SHENZHEN (AFP) - NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was unable to save Greece as 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 labored 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.
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