SHENZHEN, China – The first mission for the U.S. is complete: The Americans are going to the Tokyo Olympics.
And now the World Cup quarterfinals await.
Kemba Walker and Myles Turner each scored 16 points, and the Americans earned a top seed for the quarterfinals by beating Brazil 89-73 on Monday in the final second-round game of the tournament.
The U.S., bidding to become the first nation to win three consecutive World Cups, will face France on Wednesday – and won't have to go through any extra qualifying next summer for the Olympics.
“We're thrilled that we've qualified for the Olympics,” said U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, who will lead the Americans in Tokyo next summer as well. “With this new situation in qualifying, you don't want to do that every year. That's a pretty big grind.”
It was a win three nations could celebrate: The U.S. victory not only resulted in an Olympic berth but also clinched an Olympic spot for Argentina and a quarterfinal spot for the Czech Republic. The Czechs moved on despite losing earlier Monday to NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece.
The Czech Republic grabbed the last place in the round of eight via a three-team, points-differential tiebreaker over Greece and Brazil after they all went 3-2 in group play.
“It's already been a dream,” Czech guard Tomas Satoransky said.
Greece defeated the Czech Republic 84-77 in Shenzhen, an outcome that meant the U.S. went into the Brazil game assured a spot in the quarters. All that was at stake was seeding and where it was going, either to nearby Dongguan by bus or back on a plane to Shanghai.
Get the bus ready. France, a 100-98 loser to Australia on Monday, awaits the U.S. on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. Other quarterfinal matchups: Spain vs. Poland and Serbia vs. Argentina on Tuesday, and Australia vs. the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
The only way to stay in the mix for gold now is to keep winning. That's the approach the Americans – likening the World Cup feel to an NBA Finals feel – have carried throughout the tournament anyway.
“Pop talked about how this is June, this is June basketball,” U.S. guard Joe Harris said. “That's what our mentality has got to be like.”
Jaylen Brown scored 11 and Harrison Barnes added 10 for the U.S. (5-0).
The U.S. opened on a 14-7 run, then led by as many as eight late in the half – yet went into the break with only a 43-39 lead, unable to shake Brazil despite shooting 55 percent in the opening 20 minutes thanks largely to Walker and Turner. They were 9 for 11 in the half from the floor combined, while their teammates were 9 for 22.
Eventually, the Americans pulled away.
Marcus Smart's buzzer-beating, hand-in-his-face 3-pointer to beat the third quarter horn put the U.S. up 11, and a 15-6 run to start the fourth – mostly by getting to the rim, including back-to-back scores by Barnes, and capped by a 3-pointer from Walker – put the game away and gave the Americans an 83-62 lead with 5:50 left.
“For most of the game we played them tough,” Brazil forward Anderson Varejao said. “But in the end, we couldn't keep up.”