USA Basketball’s path to the World Cup had been too casual so far, playing Puerto Rico and Slovenia without Luka Dončić.
The test they needed came Sunday when Team USA took on Spain in Malarga (a Spanish coastal town on the Mediterranean) — this is the defending World Cup champion and a team with a genuine chance to medal this year. Plus, Spain was playing on their native soil with a vocal crowd.
Team USA passed this test with a solid B+. Jalen Brunson took charge again, scoring 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting, helping the USA pull away in the fourth quarter to beat Spain 98-88.
This was a close game much of the way (Spain led by a bucket after the first quarter), but the USA execution not only won this game but holds promise for the future — the Americans shot 56% on 3-pointers, 67% overall, and held Spain to 42%. That kind of shooting will get the Americans comfortable wins most nights.
Jaren Jackson Jr. added 14 points for the USA, Mikal Bridges added 12 points, and three players — Brandon Ingram, Austin Reaves and Anthony Edwards — each scored 11. Ant was making plays on both ends.
Tyrese Haliburton had 12 assists for the USA while Brunson added five — Team USA’s ball movement continues to be strong at times, but the team gets careless at other points and the turnovers helped Spain make runs and stay in it. The Spanish also got a lot of second-chance points, something Team USA needs to clean up down the line.
Team USA now heads to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for two more World Cup tune-up games against Germany and then Greece without Giannis Antetokounmpo. After that it is off to Manilla, where Team USA opens the World Cup on Aug. 26 with group play. USA Basketball is in a group with Greece, New Zealand and Jordan.