The U.S. finally got to enjoy an easy night at the World Cup.
There might not be many more of those.
Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, Kemba Walker added 15 and the U.S. rolled past Japan 98-45 Thursday in the Group E finale. And now, the stakes get higher with the Americans set to face Greece — and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — in a second-round opener on Saturday in Shenzhen, China.
“They were very serious tonight and they respected the Japanese team very much,” U.S. Coach Gregg Popovich said. “They didn’t take anything for granted and they played hard. So I was pleased with their performance.”
Harrison Barnes scored 14 points while Joe Harris and Donovan Mitchell each had 10 for the Americans (3-0), who are bidding for an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup title. The 45 points allowed were the fewest yielded by any team in the first round of this World Cup, the 53-point margin was the third-biggest so far in the tournament, and Mitchell thought it was the best defense the Americans have played this summer.
“We’ve had games where we played 30 minutes of great defense or 35 and kind of let up a little bit,” Mitchell said. “I think for a whole game, to really lock in and set a tone, it was really impressive.”
Yudai Baba scored 18 for Japan (0-3), which will play in classification games the rest of the way. Rui Hachimura, Japan’s best player and the No. 9 draft pick this year by the Washington Wizards, was held to four points on 2 for 8 shooting.
A U.S. program that is accustomed to blowout wins, particularly when it has NBA players, hadn’t enjoyed one yet in six games against international competition this summer. The Americans finally got one, two days after needing late-game heroics to beat Turkey 93-92 in overtime, was drama-free.
It was 13-0 before Japan scored, 23-9 after a quarter, 56-23 at halftime and 73-25 midway through the third quarter when Hachimura got loose for a dunk and his first points of the night.
Greece 103, New Zealand 97
Greece is headed to the second round of the World Cup after beating New Zealand 103-97 on Thursday in a showdown between teams that both had a shot at advancing.
Greece (2-1) was the last team to make the 16-team field for the second round. New Zealand (1-2) has to settle for the consolation bracket and will be one of the strongest teams in that 16-team pairing.
Greece jumped out to a nine-point lead in Nanjing after the first quarter, which was basically the winning edge in the Group F game.
Antetokounmpo led Greece with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Corey Webster led New Zealand with 31 points.
Czech Republic 91, Turkey 76
At Shanghai, the Czech Republic made it to the second round, and Turkey completed its collapse.
Vojtech Hruban scored 18 points and Ondrej Balvin finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds to take the second and final second-round spot from Group E. Patrick Auda also scored 16 points for the Czechs (2-1).
Cedi Osman scored 24 points and Furkan Korkmaz added 16 for Turkey (1-2), which came within one-tenth of a second of beating the United States on Tuesday and wasted a five-point lead in overtime of that game before losing 92-91.
France 90, Dominican Republic 56
At Shenzhen, France and the Dominican Republic were both assured of making the second round. The French team’s emphatic victory left no doubt that it was the best team in Group G.
Nando De Colo led France (3-0) with 15 points and Rudy Gobert added 13. Victor Liz had 12 to lead the Dominican Republic (2-1).
Australia 87, Lithuania 82
At Dongguan, Australia’s victory allowed it to top Group H with Lithuania finishing 2-1. They both go to the second round.
Australia was led by Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs with 23 points, while Aron Baynes of the Phoenix Suns added 21. Baynes also pulled down 13 rebounds.
Marius Grigonis was Lithuania’s top scorer with 19 points. Lukas Lekavicius added 15.
Canada 82, Senegal 60
At Dongguan, Canada picked up its first victory in its final Group H game, and Senegal remained winless in three games. Both teams moved into the consolation round, playing for 17th to 32nd place.
Cory Joseph of the Sacramento Kings led Germany with 24 points and Kevin Pangos added 13 with five rebounds and five assists. Mouhammad Faye had 14 as Senegal’s top scorer.
Brazil 84, Montenegro 73
At Nanjing, Brazil finished 3-0 to top Group F and moved into the second round. Montenegro lost all three and is headed to consolation-round play. Brazil had three players in double figures: Marcelinho Huertas with 16 points, Marquinhos Sousa with 13, and Alex Garcia with 11.
Derek Needham led Montenegro with 16 points and 10 assists.
Germany 96, Jordan 62
At Shenzhen, Germany salvaged a victory in its last Group G match, and Jordan finished winless. Both move into the consolation round.
Max Kleber of the Dallas Mavericks led the Germans with 18 points and Danilo Barthel had 13. Ahmad Al Dwairi had 17 points and eight rebounds to lead Jordan. Dar Tucker added 14.
FIBA World Cup schedule
Group I: Poland (3-0) vs. Russia (2-1); Argentina (3-0), Venezuela (2-1).
Group J: Serbia (3-0) vs. Puerto Rico (2-1); Spain (3-0) vs. Italy (2-1).
Group M: Nigeria (1-2) vs. Ivory Coast (0-3); China (1-2) vs. Korea (0-3).
Group N: Angola (1-2) vs. Iran (0-3); Tunisia (1-2) vs. Philippines (0-3).