ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — In a game that was tremendous theater for a friendly and served as a terrific appetizer for the upcoming FIBA World Cup, Team USA completed a 5-0 exhibition record with a high-intensity 99-91 win over medal contender Germany on Sunday.
The U.S. trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half as Germany, which came in 4-1 in pre-World Cup play, including a win over Canada, employed an effective game plan. But the Americans turned it into a chance to buckle down and show off their defensive mettle, holding Germany scoreless for six minutes in the fourth quarter while going on an 18-0 run.
Anthony Edwards, who has used these past three weeks to show off his potential as a leading man, was brilliant offensively and defensively. He fired in 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting and was part of the swarming defensive effort late that won the game.
“He’s unquestionably the guy,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said of Edwards. “You can see he knows it. But now the team knows it, and I think the fans see it. … He genuinely believes he’s the best player in the gym every single night. And he’s such a dynamic young player. I think he’s taking a leap.”
That was Team USA’s hope when it secured Edwards’ commitment to be on the roster. Kerr and the rest of the USA Basketball leadership saw him as the No. 1 option, and he has been given the green light to shoot when he sees space. In the five exhibition games, he led the team in scoring at 19.2 points per game and finished shooting 51%.
“Man, this was fun,” said Edwards, who signed a new deal worth up to $260 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves last month. “I ain’t have fun like this in a minute. So yeah, this was super exciting. We were down 15, so that was adversity.”
Tyrese Haliburton, fresh off his own deal of over $200 million with the Indiana Pacers, served notice of his importance on the roster as he scored 17 of his 18 points in the second half and finished the game ahead of starter Jalen Brunson because of his defensive and playmaking prowess.
“Our [second] unit felt like we were f—ing the game up, so we had to come in and fix it,” Haliburton said.
Also finishing the game as a bench player was Austin Reaves, who has won compliments from teammates and coaches and scored 16 points.
“I don’t think that we can really ever feel like we’re out of a game,” Reaves said. “They have a really talented team that has got a lot of guys that play in the NBA. This one felt good.”
After showing minor flaws over their first four exhibition games, the Americans got some potentially useful lessons about their weak spots from a German game plan that future opponents will likely attempt to mimic. Not every opposing country has a point guard like Dennis Schroder, a role player in the NBA who can morph into a force in international play.
He went after the Americans with his speed, accelerating repeatedly at the point of attack and using pick-and-rolls to get past his defender and put the help defense on its heels. Schroder, who signed with the Toronto Raptors this summer, had 16 points and 10 assists and repeatedly set up or created hockey assists for NBA player teammates Franz Wagner (17 points), Mo Wagner (14) and Daniel Theis (12).
Reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. had five blocked shots but often was left to chase when he or others were out of position.
Perhaps the Americans’ biggest challenge in the upcoming World Cup is size. They are fast and versatile, but they are not big, in height or bulk. Germany is — it starts 6-foot-10 Franz Wagner at small forward, 6-8 bruiser Theis at power forward and 7-footer Johannes Voigtmann at center, and it brings 6-11 Mo Wagner off the bench.
This showed up repeatedly throughout the game, as the Germans won the rebounding battle 46-35 and used offensive rebounds as a primary scoring weapon by winning second-chance points, 21-7. Germany threw a press and half-court traps at the U.S., which frequently had the effect of disrupting its offensive rhythm. That is something it could see again.
The Americans leave Monday for Manila, Philippines, and the World Cup, where they open Saturday against New Zealand.
“We still go to Manila feeling like we have a lot of room for growth; we also go there with a lot of confidence in ourselves,” Kerr said. “The group has a connection. They really like each other. They play well together and they fight. So that’s a huge step.”