The problem with simply double-teaming Giannis Antetokounmpo or clogging the paint to thwart him is that when the ball is not in his superhuman hands, it’s usually in Khris Middleton’s very capable hands or Brook Lopez’s or Eric Bledsoe’s, or hell, Pat Connaughton’s.
But luckily for Gregg Popovich and Team USA, that strategy works quite seamlessly when a team’s Plans B through G after Giannis are some scrubs, Plan H is Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and Plans I through L are yet more scrubs.
Team USA didn’t play an especially inspiring offensive game against Greece Saturday morning—Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell were the only double-figure scorers at 15 and 13 points, respectively—but it was enough for a 69-53 win to clinch a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals and improve their tournament record to 4-0.
Giannis finished with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting. The rest of Team Greece shot a cool 14-for-55 from the field. Yeesh! Giannis’s shoulders are big, but they’re not that big.
With basically nobody else to concern themselves with, Team USA’s attention could be wholly devoted to stopping the Greek Freak, and they kept him scoreless in the third quarter. Marcus Smart put on ferocious defensive clinic, finishing with a game-high +18. Brad Stevens is vigorously taking notes.
The reigning MVP ended up on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. (Coach Thanasis Skourtopoulo told press postgame that it was so he could rest before an elimination game against the Czech Republic Monday.)
Team USA will play the surprisingly sprightly Team Brazil Monday, and the winner of Monday’s Australia-France game in the quarterfinals. The looming threat—and likely semifinals opponent down the line—remains Nikola Jokic and Team Serbia, who have been playing spectacularly all tournament, winning their games by an average of 40.7 points. “Let’s let them [Team USA] play their basketball and we will play ours and if we meet, may God help them,” Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic said in an interview last month. Should be fun!
And one last thing to look forward to: the seeds have been sown for a Celtics-Bucks fight next season.
They meet October 30 at TD Garden. Mark your calendars.