One man can’t topple the the world’s basketball power.
Greece had the chance to test that hypothesis in the FIBA World Cup, entering the tournament with the best player in NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Team USA held him to 15 points on 7-for-11 to defeat Greece, 69-53, but the best defense on Giannis came from bench — courtesy of coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos.
Skourtopoulos imitated the adage that only Dean Smith could stop Michael Jordan. He benched Giannis for the entire fourth quarter, while his teammates scored Greece’s lone victory in a quarter, 16-15. Greece’s coach previously drew ire for his limited usage of Antetokounmpo in Greece’s last-second loss to Brazil. The two games stole the joy of one of the world’s greats from performing in the knockout stage.
Greece missed the knockout stage to the Czech Republic, playing in their first World Cup since Czechoslovakia existed; and Brazil, led by two retired NBA players.
The USA built a 54-37 lead behind defensive brilliance that walled Antetokounmpo from the paint. When he broke inside, they collapsed, forcing him to hold the ball and kick out. When he differed, the USA scrambled to the three-point line, forcing a pair of 24-second violations in the third.
Marcus Smart DPOY pic.twitter.com/i4n8RDlkjN— Celtas Brasil (@BrasilCeltas) September 7, 2019
Marcus Smart tagged Giannis in the low post on many possessions, denying the ball and holding him from the paint until help arrived. Team USA outscored Greece by 18 with Smart on the floor, despite him only scoring three points at the free throw line. Kemba Walker filled the scoring gap, with 15 on 5-for-12 shooting (3-for-6 3-pt) and six assists.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo replaced his brother in the closing minutes, posting-up and finding Evangelos Mantzaris for three. He caught a lob from Nick Calathes to hit two free throws, and his dish to Calathes for a transition layup pulled Greece within 61-50 with 4:33 remaining.
Walker drove to the rim early in the shot clocks. He’d pull-up in-between, but following Calathe’s make he reached the bucket and front-rimmed the layup. He doubled-back, grabbed his own rebound and finished fading away to the left of the rim.
Greece had four minutes to insert Giannis, only several possessions from a game, but never did. Walker swung a pass to Donovan Mitchell in the corner for three a minute later to go ahead 14, all but eliminating Greece from the World Cup.
Jaylen Brown finished 3-for-9 with eight points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes. Jayson Tatum sat out with his sprained ankle from Tuesday. Reports indicated he would miss at least two games, with Greece marking his second.
Team USA plays Brazil, featuring former Celtic Leandro Barbosa, on Monday at 8:30 a.m. EST to wrap the second group stage. If they win, they’ll play the loser of Australia and France’s game on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. The Aussies beat USA in the second of two exhibitions last month.