Make it 8 in a row now for the good guys! Team USA has moved to 4-0 after their latest conquest over Montenegro, which brings our list of 4-0 teams to 3 (USA, Germany, Slovenia) with 2 more having the potential to join the club (Canada, Lithuania). As it stands right now, Team USA has the best +/- of any country at +115 (Canada is +111 with a game to play), so it's fair to say given their record and then how badly they've been beating teams down that the US is as expected, the best team in the tournament
Unlike their previous game against Jordan in which they won by 48 points, Team USA was certainly tested today. That's to be expected since the teams are only getting better, and Montenegro had been legit this entire tournament behind Nikola Vucevic who was once again solid (18/16 with 2 locks on 8/19). This was not a case where Team USA came out and the game was over after the first quarter. Far from it. They actually trailed at the half 37-38. In total, there were 7 ties and 6 lead changes. We finally had ourselves a competitve basketball game!
Fortunately, Team USA held Montenegro to just 35 second half points, Anthony Edwards finally woke up and scored all of his 17 points over the final two quarters
and the Team USA bench mob did the rest. We've talked all tournament about how one of the biggest advantages the US has is their depth, and this was yet another game where that depth ultimately carried them
In total, 39 the of 85 came from the second unit, sadly only 2 points of it came from Brandon Ingram in his 15 minutes so he continues to have a pretty brutal FIBA run. Steve Kerr pulled himfrom the starting lineup in favor of Josh Hart and frankly I don't see Kerr reversing that decision. Ingram really hasn't given Team USA all that much in any of the 8 games (4 real) that they've played. I mean just compare that to guys like Reaves, Banchero, and Haliburton who are coming off the bench and dominating, there's a pretty drastic difference in impact.
This was also one of the rare times so far that Team USA wasn't able to hit dick from beyond the arc. Just a 5-19 (26.3%) finish, they also got completely manhandled on the offensive glass (23 OREB) which enabled Montenegro to put up 22 2nd chance points (Team USA had 3) and that's what made this game so competitive. It's hard to pull away when the opposing team is rebounding 23 of their 45 misses. Not a huge math guy, but my calculator says that's 51%, which is a rather outrageous OREB%. Vucevic had 7 by himself for crying out loud.
Personally, I think it's helpful for this inexperienced group to have tough games like this as the tournament goes on. Sure the blowouts are fun and all, but it's good to see that even in the real games when Team USA is tested, they've responded. We saw the comebacks in the tune up games, but the 2nd round of group stage is very different. You can get your ass beat by anyone at this stage. Their game on Sunday against 3-0 Lithuania is going to be the same thing. Given how effective Vucecic was on the glass, Team USA is going to have that exact same issue on Sunday against Jonas Valanciunas. Not only that, but Lithuania can shoot the rock. They were around 55% from deep today against Greece, and shoot 38% from deep as a team. By comparison, Team USA is down to 36% from deep after today's performance.
All in all, I think most people expected Team USA to be 4-0 at this point of the World Cup, so in that sense, all they've done is meet expectations. But for a group that doesn't have a single player with international experience, I'd say watching guys like Edwards, Reaves and Haliburton break out on this stage has been extremely fun to watch and has me beyond ready to see them in the actual NBA season. If Team USA continues to get this type of production from their bench and Ant continues to carry the load as "the guy", we might have a situation where Team USA runs the table.