ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Team USA’s barnstorming tour to Manila continued Friday night, a third stop on as many continents in as many weeks.
From Sin City to the Mediterranean and now to the Arabian Peninsula, the opponents and the currency and dialects change, but the end result has not. That’s how the Americans prefer it.
Anthony Edwards was the top scorer for the third game with a personal-best 21 points, and Team USA improved to 4-0 in exhibition play with a 108-86 win over Team Greece.
Last week in Spain, Slovenia without Luka Dončić was no match for the Americans (who won by 30), and a similar comment could be made about the Greeks without their NBA superstar.
Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t playing for the Greeks in the FIBA World Cup because he hasn’t recovered from offseason knee surgery, which is a much bigger problem for his team than Dončić missing a friendly for precautionary reasons.
Greece is in Team USA’s pool at the World Cup, and the two teams play for real on Aug. 28 in Manila. It would be an uphill battle for the Greeks with Giannis against a deep and cohesive American unit without him, they’ll need to fight just to advance to the second round.
“Um, I didn’t even know we played them (again) in 10 days,” Edwards said. “But that’s cool. It should be, it should be a better game.”
Edwards scored 11 in a third period in which USAB ended whatever question remained of an upset, pushing its lead to as much as 20. The Americans led by as many as 17 in the first quarter, but a foolish display of 10 turnovers in the first half allowed the Greeks to stay within shouting distance, cutting their deficit to as few as seven. There were 20 giveaways by Team USA.
Edwards ripped three 3s in the third period after missing his first four from beyond the arc, and finished the game shooting 8-of-16 from the field. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
“We just had to pick up the energy (in the third quarter),” Edwards said. “Coach didn’t like the energy, we didn’t like the energy. We knew what happened so we had to change it.”
“I thought we let our guard down, fouled quite a bit,” USA coach Steve Kerr added. “We had a couple of turnovers, I think two in a row that I felt like changed the game.
“But, all in all, I’m really, really happy with the way guys are playing and competing and, you know, playing together.”
There were six Americans who scored in double figures – Mikal Bridges (10 points) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (11 points) with the starters, and Cam Johnson (13 points), Bobby Portis (10 points) and Austin Reaves (11 points) off the bench.
Like Edwards, Johnson banged home three 3s on seven tries. He also went baseline for what was nearly a 360 dunk (didn’t quite get all the way turned) with a pump or two in the air.
It was an unusually quiet night for three quarters from Jalen Brunson, who followed up the 21 he scored (on 9-of-9 shooting) in that thrilling win over Spain, in Spain, on Sunday with nine points (all in the fourth quarter). Brunson led the Americans with seven assists.
Kerr switched up his rotation, giving first-quarter minutes to Walker Kessler, who had played the fewest minutes on the team so far. Kessler was the first American off the bench Friday, and responded to his first test. Grecian guard Tom Walkup, who is considerably smaller than Kessler, tried to dunk on him, and Kessler promptly erased the shot.
“That was the plan,” Kerr said of Kessler’s early minutes. “We wanted to get Bobby out there as well. Bobby got good minutes and he’s a crowd favorite apparently in every building we play in. And I thought those guys were both really good off the bench. The games are all very physical so there’s, there’s going to be moments for sure where Walker can really help us.”
The Antetokounmpo who is playing for Greece, Giannis’ brother and Milwaukee reserve Thanasis, scored four points in 24 minutes off the bench. Greece had two players score 12 points off the bench, and Walkup was one of two starters with 11 points.
“They’re the most athletic, strongest team in the world,” Walkup said of USA. “That will be a completely different day (the rematch at the World Cup). If anything it’s good to have a game on tape, get a feel for their athleticism, get a feel for their speed, and we’ll see where we are.”
This was USA Basketball’s first game in Abu Dhabi, but the NBA has quickly become a familiar face in the desert. There will be an NBA exhibition between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves here in October, the second of three such games over a span of three years. On Friday, the attendance was 7,277 at Etihad Arena.
The American 12 plays Germany on Sunday in the finale of this tour. The games start to count on Aug. 26, when Team USA opens World Cup play against New Zealand (8:40 a.m. ET).
(Photo: Juan Ocampo / NBAE via Getty Images)