Austin Reaves sized his man up with a hesitation escape dribble and pulled-up over the late contest for the mid-range 2.
Paolo Banchero nailed back-to-back 3s, then swatted a layup on the other end of the floor.
Team USA’s starters cheered from the bench.
What sounded like a scene from garbage minutes with Team USA up big is a microcosm of how the Americans built a lead that ballooned to a 99-72 victory in their FIBA World Cup opener against New Zealand early Saturday morning.
Banchero led the way with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. He also did it in only 19 minutes of play — the first time he’s had more than 20 points in under 20 minutes in his college or basketball career.
Only six NBA players had 20 points in under 20 minutes last season.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” the reigning Rookie of the Year from the Orlando Magic said postgame. “We played five exhibition games just to get ready for this, and so when you get to this tournament, you know it’s go time. You’ve gotta win every game to have a chance. So I just wanted to come out and be live soon as I got in the game, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Banchero’s play resuscitated a lifeless Team USA starting five. The starters conceded an early 14-4 lead to a New Zealand team with high levels of physicality and 3-point precision.
But not nearly as talented of a roster as the one representing the USA.
Six minutes into the first quarter, head coach Steve Kerr saw enough. In came Reaves, Haliburton and Banchero.
The run ensued shortly after.
Haliburton stole the ball and got it to Banchero, who got to the rim and netted a pair of free throws. The next possession, Reaves was the set-up artist creating an open dunk for the Magic’s standout. Haliburton got on the offensive glass to tip-in Reaves’ missed layup. Then Banchero got to the rim again, this time courtesy of a feed from Brandon Ingram.
Nets forward Cam Johnson took a hard foul on a drive to the rim, but popped up and nailed two free throws. Reaves then closed the quarter with a trey on a dime from Haliburton.
Team USA trailed 14-6 at the 4:09 mark in the first quarter but entered the second quarter up, 19-18. After trailing 10 in the opening minutes, they outscored New Zealand 41-22 for the rest of the first half.
Banchero lit it up again in the second half scoring 12 points in the third quarter alone. Banchero, Haliburton and Reaves nearly outscored the starters, combining for 43 points on 16-of-21 shooting from the field.
The starters scored 45 points but turned the ball over 14 times.
Reaves also tallied a game-high six assists, and Haliburton logged three steals.
Saturday’s matinee performance, however, was all about Banchero.
“It’s a big arena, bright lights. So you want to get used to it,” he said of the game played in Manila, Philippines. “And the ball obviously is different from the NBA so you wanna get comfortable with it and I felt good shooting it today.”
The performance was a moment to exhale for the Magic sensation who missed four straight free throws while Team USA attempted to mount its eventual comeback victory over a physical Germany team in the Showcase finale.
His inconsistent level of play through the five Showcase games left a cloud of uncertainty on whether an NBA rookie’s lack of experience would hinder the team on the international stage.
It’s safe to say Banchero is a lock to play heavy minutes now that the games count towards gold. He was Team USA’s best player on Saturday on a day when Anthony Edwards was a mere mortal.
Edwards, the Minnesota Timberwolves superstar turned Team USA leader, did his best Jaylen Brown impersonation in the Group C opener against New Zealand. He turned the ball over three times in the first quarter alone and tallied five in the game, often losing control of the ball while attempting crossovers.
Edwards finished with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field to go with seven rebounds and three assists, but fell short of his average of 18.8 points per Showcase game — and far short of the 34 points in 34 minutes he hung on Germany.
New York minute
Jalen Brunson finished with 10 points and four assists but was captain of a starting unit that started out sloppy and undisciplined against New Zealand. Haliburton’s play spurred the run that turned the game into Team USA’s favor.
Mikal Bridges scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and also logged one steal and a block. His two-way proficiency continues to earn him valuable minutes on Kerr’s roster.
Cam Johnson took a hard fall in the first quarter but nailed two early free throws that helped chop into New Zealand’s early lead. He missed all three of his shot attempts but played critical minutes.
Josh Hart was also part of Kerr’s early substitution pattern to slice into New Zealand’s early lead. He finished with five points and four rebounds.
Next up is Greece on Monday, and Jordan on Wednesday. Team USA must finish with one of the best two records in Group C to advance to the second round.