Team U.S.A. is coming off a scare against Turkey that resulted in a thrilling 93-92 OT win and automatic advance to the next round of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but it still came at a cost as Jayson Tatum suffered an ankle sprain in the waning seconds of OT and is expected to miss at least the next two games. Now the Americans must turn their focus to their final match-up of group play: Japan.
U.S.A. vs. Japan
September 5 | 7:30 AM CT | Shanghai
Injuries: Jayson Tatum (ankle — out)
Find your form and stay healthy
There is nothing at stake for either team in this game as the US has already advanced, and win-less Japan is eliminated. However, after the offense screeched to a halt against Turkey’s zone defense and struggled to defend the paint, adjustments will have to made, especially with Tatum out.
The Americans need to use this opportunity to come together again and play consistently on both sides of the ball as they prepare for the harder tests to come. Gregg Popovich clearly has some trust issues with his centers as there were plenty of times Turkey torched his small-ball line-ups that often featured neither Myles Turner or Mason Plumlee down low, and there are plenty of bigger teams that will cause them even more headaches down the line if this issue isn’t figured out.
The good news is neither this game or the first of the second round is an elimination game, and Japan will be their easiest test yet since they began playing exhibitions in Australia. The bad news is Pop’s squad is running out of time to find the form it will take to beat teams like Serbia — if they even get there. They know this, and they’re ready for the challenge. As Turner said after the Turkey game:
“I think any team can see this game and know that this is a team that their licking their chops to play. We’re Team USA, everybody wants to beat us. Every team is going to give us their best shot. More than anything, we have to just stay together.”
A learning opportunity for Rui Hachimura
It has been quite the summer for the rookie out of Gonzaga. After becoming just the second Japanese player to ever be drafted by the NBA and first to be taken in the first round (9th overall by the Washington Wizards), he had a solid Summer League debut and has been a standout in the World Cup, averaging 18 points and 6.5 rebounds in group play.
Although the match-up against the U.S. will be Japan’s final game of the World Cup, going up against a team constructed entirely of NBA players will be a great experience for Hachimura. Like all NBA rookies, he’ll need time to grow into the league, but he has high upside and will surely bring plenty of honor to his home country as basketball popularity continues to grow in Japan.