BASKETBALL: U.S. defeats Poland for seventh; Popovich: “not written in stone” that U.S. should win

Jaylen Brown on the way to scoring two of his eight points vs. Poland (Photo: FIBA)

Even with Kemba Walker sitting out, the U.S. men managed an 87-74 win over Poland in the seventh-place game at the FIBA World Cup in Beijing, China.

After leading by 18-14 in the first quarter, the American squad scored the last 10 points in the quarter for a 28-14 lead. The lead was 47-30 at halftime and even though Poland outscored the U.S. by 25-16 in the third quarter, the U.S. finished with a 24-19 fourth quarter and a 13-point win.

Balanced scoring was the U.S.’s trademark, with five scorers in double figures: Donovan Mitchell had 16, Joe Harris had 14. Khris Middleton scored 13; Derrick White, 12, and Harrison Barnes, 10. Myles Turner led with eight rebounds and Mitchell had 10 assists.

The U.S. had a good shooting performance, making 50.8% of its shots and 12-25 from three-point range. Mateusz Ponitka had 18 for Poland, and Adam Wzczynski scored 17.

The post-mortems started right away, with U.S. coach Gregg Popovich emphasizing the positive:

“In this day and age, basketball in other countries is not a secret. There’s no epiphany. There are wonderful teams and coaches around the world. There’s no surprise to any of that. You go compete, and the best teams win. I was thrilled that these guys sacrificed and worked hard and let us coach them. I wish I could’ve gotten them closer, but it didn’t happen. It’s not about deciding what happened. Better teams got to the Final. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. It’s not written in stone that USA should walk to a championship.”

He added:

“Some people want to play the blame game. There’s no blame to be placed anywhere. They want to play the shame game, like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature, it’s arrogant, and it shows that whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world and doesn’t respect that these guys did the best they could.”

For the record, the seventh-place finish was the worst-ever U.S. finish in the World Cup, which started as the FIBA World Championship in 1950.

Middleton also noted that the quarter final loss to France was a close thing.

“We had a tough game against France with a lead in the fourth quarter that we lost. That’s all you can do is move on from that game and get better. … We had a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost it.”

The U.S. accomplished its primary goal from this tournament, which was to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. For the tournament, Mitchell had 105 points in eight games (13.1 avg.) and Walker had 101 in seven (14.4) to lead the U.S. Myles Turner had 54 rebounds (6.8 avg.) to lead the team.

Serbia defeated the Czech Republic, 90-81, to finish fifth thanks to Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 31 points; Nikola Milutinov added 14.

The tournament closes tomorrow in Beijing, with France and Australia facing off for the bronze medal and Argentina and Spain for the world title.