SYDNEY – Order restored. After losing for the first time in nearly 13 years two days earlier, the United States rebounded to outclass Canada 84-68 in a pre-World Cup exhibition basketball game Monday.
At the same arena where the Americans won Olympic gold at the Sydney 2000 Games the U.S. never trailed, leading 20-9 after the first quarter and 46-31 at halftime.
On Saturday, Australia stunned the U.S. 98-94 before a crowd of more than 52,000 in Melbourne, a result that ended the Americans’ 78-game winning streak.
The U.S. is missing top NBA players such as LeBron James, James Harden, Paul George and Stephen Curry. It was a dour scoring game after the exciting Saturday result in Melbourne, with both teams committing numerous turnovers Monday.
Jaylen Brown had 19 points to lead the Americans, who out-rebounded Canada 55-37. Donovan Mitchell added 12 points and four assists; Kemba Walker scored 12 points and Myles Turner finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
“We have to speed up that learning curve,” Brown said of the Americans with less than a week to go before the World Cup starts. “We have a lot of room for growth. It’s going to be good when it comes together, the sky is the limit for this group.”
Former Gonzaga Bulldog Kyle Wiltjer had 21 points for Canada, while Orlando Magic forward Khem Birch – Canada’s lone NBA player in the game – had 13 points and six rebounds.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve enjoyed our time here,” Wiltjer said. “Let’s not forget these are practice games.”
Overall, the Canadians shot just 35% from the field and 6 for 23 (26%) from 3-point range.
Andrew Nembhard, who injured his knee last week, and Kaza Kajami-Keane (ankle) both returned for Canada, while Brady Heslip, a late arrival for the Canadians, played his first game in Australia.
The last time the Americans – counting major international tournaments and exhibitions with NBA players on the floor – lost a game was the semifinals of the 2006 world championships. The American program has won gold in every competition since, including three straight in the Olympics and two consecutive World Cup titles.
Still, Monday’s performance by the Americans was far from perfect. The U.S. made 19 turnovers – six more than Canada. It has now had double-digit numbers in turnovers in each of their exhibition games.
“‘Tonight was another good lesson for them to realize what the mindset has to be going into these games,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “There’s a lot of improvement we can make I think. We’ve got good potential there if we continue to execute better than we are now. We competed, that wasn’t a problem but skill execution takes time.”
Canada: It was the third head-to-head meeting between Canada coach Nick Nurse and Popovich. They went 1-1 against each other in NBA play last season, Nurse’s Toronto Raptors losing in San Antonio on Jan. 3 but beating Popovich’s Spurs in Canada on Feb. 22. Canada finished 4-3 in its pre-World Cup exhibitions, starting with a split of a two-game series with Nigeria before five games in Australia.
USA: The Americans finished their four-game World Cup warm-up tour 3-1 after beating Spain and splitting two games with Australia. The U.S. is planning to stay in Sydney until mid-week, then arrive in Shanghai early Thursday.
Not even the Americans could figure out why Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks center, became a massive fan favorite late in the game. The 15,000-crowd began chanting: “We want Lopez” and “Loooppppeezzz.” And every time Lopez – who spent most of the game on the bench – was shown on the big video screen, the crowd erupted.
Popovich put him into the game in the closing minutes, to a huge roar of approval.
“He was trying to fight it a bit but he finally acquiesced,” Lopez said of his coach.
“What the hell was that all about?” Popovich said, smiling. “We screwed with it for a while, we were trying to keep our focus, because we don’t want to make anything silly. But, it got so ridiculous, that we finally succumbed to the crowd.”
Canada: Opens World Cup play Sept. 1 vs. Australia in Dongguan, China.
USA: Opens World Cup play Sept. 1 vs. Czech Republic in Shanghai.
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