Brian WindhorstESPN Senior Writer2 minute reading
MANILA, Philippines – Team USA got their first test match of the FIFA World Cup on Friday. They passed, but it was a little shaky.
Montenegro, loaded with size and playing with confidence, led at halftime and refused to let the Americans pull away throughout the second half until pulling away late in the fourth. Team USA eventually won 85-73 behind strong play from guards Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Halliburton and Austin Reaves.
Edwards scored all 17 of his points in the second half as he sensed the moment and flashed his skills from jumpers to drives to getting to the foul line. Halliburton was a star on both ends with 10 points, 6 assists and two steals.
The win puts the USA team in a very strong position to advance to the quarterfinals next week. But it underscored the challenge, first against a strong Lithuania side on Sunday, and more likely as the level of competition increases.
Team USA’s weakness is undoubtedly its size, which has been evident since the team was assembled. Montenegro is a classic Eastern European FIBA team, big and tough with all-star big, Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic.
Montenegro started to use their edge from the start, pounding the ball up the middle and hitting the offensive boards. By the end of the first quarter they had built an 11-rebound advantage, announcing that they were serious.
Overall, the Montenegrins won 48-31, and 22 of them were on the offensive end. Not only did it give them a possession advantage that was crucial in an upset effort, but it slowed America down. Any attempt to beat Team USA in this tournament will be a chore.
Vucevic, who signed a three-year, $60 million deal in Chicago last month, has played a role often seen against America, an NBA star who brings it all in a moment of national pride. He pushed around his peers from the NBA, struggled to rebound and showed the touch that made him a two-time All-Star.
He finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds and provided some hurt to Jaron Jackson Jr., Bobby Portis and anyone who battled him inside. Jackson, who was in foul trouble early in the game, never recovered and no one on the American team was more than 5.
Was 1-of-9 from 3-point range in the first half and 5-of-17 for the game. They missed 10 free throws and turned the ball over 12 times. All these are the basics to win the World Cup.
But Reaves drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 2:44 left that finally gave the Americans breathing room. He finished with 12 points off the bench.
American-born Kendrick Perry scored 14 points for Montenegro.