SHENZHEN, China – The MVP was good. The USA was better.
And the Antetokounmpo getting talked about most by the Americans when this much-anticipated World Cup matchup was over wasn't Giannis – but rather Thanasis, the younger brother, who sent U.S. forward Harrison Barnes sprawling with an ill-advised foul from behind on a fast break in the final moments.
Barnes avoided injury, and the U.S. avoided defeat. Kemba Walker scored 15 points and handed out six assists, Donovan Mitchell scored 10 on his 23rd birthday and the U.S. beat Greece 69-53 to move on the cusp of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
“We played well,” Walker said. “We had a great game plan and we stuck to it and we were able to come out with a big win.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA's MVP from the Milwaukee Bucks, scored 15 points but sat out the fourth quarter in a move Greek officials said was made to rest him for the team's last-ditch effort to make the quarterfinals on Monday.
The U.S. national team has won 57 consecutive games in international tournaments with NBA players, starting with the 2006 world championships bronze-medal game and continuing through every FIBA Americas, world championships, World Cup and Olympic event since. The streak started after a 101-95 loss to Greece in 2006 – a defeat that forced the U.S. to change its program.
The Americans haven't lost in the biggest tournaments since.
“It was a good test for us,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “And it helped us get better. That's our goal, to get better in every one of these games.”
Barnes and Derrick White each scored nine for the U.S., which can clinch a quarterfinal berth Monday in multiple ways – the simplest being a win over Brazil. There also are ways for the U.S. to move on even if it loses Monday.