MANILA, Philippines — Anthony Edwards scored 32 fewer points on Tuesday — three — in Team USA’s 100-63 World Cup quarterfinal win over Italy than he did in the loss to Lithuania two days prior. But his teammates said he was one of the most excited players in the locker room after the game.
Several times Mikal Bridges, who was the player of the game with 24 points and seven rebounds, used questions about his performance to pivot and discuss Edwards. So did coach Steve Kerr.
“Anthony Edwards [was] moving the ball early on. It’s just infectious,” Kerr said. “And then it becomes fun and it doesn’t matter who scores and who gets the stats, it just becomes about the team.”
When Team USA plays there are always multiple pathways happening. The tournament they’re trying to win, of course. Then there’s the question of which players are building close relationships because it often leads to teaming up later in the NBA.
(On this point this year, it’s easy. The Villanova guys — Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Bridges — pal around, and the so-called “twins,” Cameron Johnson and Bridges. And then everybody loves the easy-going Edwards and Austin Reaves, who came into this not knowing anyone on the team and has won everyone over with his game and personality).
And then there’s the leap potential to watch: Which players are using this challenge as a superstar springboard?
It was massive for LeBron James and Kevin Durant in building up their confidence and advancing their leadership as winners. Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker got a bounce after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics as well.
The U.S. wants to win two more games but this is unfolding as an Edwards moment. The people on the team and in his NBA life know it. His agent, Bill Duffy, has arrived in Manila along with Minnesota Timberwolves president Tim Connelly.
And, down the line, it seems Tuesday was a big day for Edwards. His scoring is badly needed and there are times when he needs to rely on his talent to make it happen. But coming out of the loss to Lithuania when he did score 35 impressive points, and took 16 more shots than anyone else on the team, there may have been an internal emphasis on him sharing the ball more.
He only had three assists but was moving the ball and playing aggressive defense, especially when the U.S. went to a half-court trap that totally messed up the Italians. Edwards took six shots, making one. And, according to his teammates, it was still a big night for him.
“Ant could get 30 whatever he wants, like easily,” Bridges said. “Just (for) him to be unselfish and you know, we talk to him and try to help him out just to find guys and that’s what he did. And he’s probably the happiest dude in the locker room right now … I think we kind of fed off that, once we saw Ant doing that and how happy he was and everybody kind of had that joy as well.”
Haliburton pulls off unreal jumping, between-the-legs pass to Banchero
Tyrese Haliburton gathers the loose ball and lobs a between-the-legs dime to Paolo Banchero for the easy dunk.
More takeaways from Team USA’s win over Italy
• Italy coach Gianmarco Pozzecco was a little salty about having to play the U.S. on Tuesday. His team pulled off a massive comeback win over Serbia last week that not only got them to the quarterfinal but also assured they would win Group I.
Italy came to the quarterfinal as the higher “seed” than the U.S. and as group winners, they were the home team. But because the Americans lost to Lithuania, they ended up second in their group and Italy’s reward for winning its bracket was a date with the tournament favorites.
“My players didn’t deserve it to play against America because we were first in our group,” Pozzecco said. “You need to be a little bit lucky. I think we did everything we could do in our group. … We deserve maybe a little bit better, we deserve to overcome quarterfinals.”
He made an analogy that the Italians are “a bird that cannot fly” but it didn’t translate. If it wasn’t the U.S., the Italians would’ve played Lithuania and likely been the underdog in that game. But they won’t get to play for a medal now.
It is the World Cup quarterfinals, after all, it isn’t supposed to be a bye.
• Paolo Banchero got some boos from Italian fans when he was introduced before the game. Like Pozzecco, Banchero had to be a little uncomfortable when this matchup fell into place after he backed out of his intention to play for Italy to join Team USA earlier this summer.
He didn’t show any emotion until he threw down a dunk off a remarkable lob from Tyrese Haliburton at the end of the third quarter. Then he let out a roar. It didn’t seem to impact him as he played well off the bench with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
After the game, he tried — though his tone didn’t really sell it well — to say he enjoyed the awkwardness.
“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Banchero said. “Just to get out there. I noticed some of the coaches, some of the players, so just to get out there and compete with them was awesome.”