Led by 19 points apiece from James Nunnally (Free Agent/UC Santa Barbara) and Isaiah Thomas (Free Agent/Washington), the USA (5-0) recorded a 93-77 win over Bahamas (1-4) in FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying action on Friday evening in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The game was the USA’s fifth in FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying play, which the USA will close out against Mexico tomorrow, Feb. 20, at 5 p.m. EST (live on ESPN+).
Dakota Mathias (Free Agent/Purdue) finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists; Brandon Bass (Free Agent/LSU) added 12 points and 10 rebounds; and Joe Johnson (Free Agent/Arkansas) tallied 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
“Well actually, I felt really good with the immediate start of the game,” said USA head coach Joe Prunty . “I thought Isaiah (Thomas) got off to a quick start, a hot start. He hit, I believe, three 3s pretty quickly there, got us an 11-2 lead. But the one thing we knew – this is a very talented Bahamas team. They have several players from the last two windows, that didn’t necessarily play together, but as a collective group is very talented, and they showed that tonight with their fight and how hard they played. So, they deserve credit. But I also like, with us, how we responded to several different situations that they threw at us, not only on the defensive end in making us execute, but also on the offensive end where we had to guard.”
The USA shot 49.3% from the field (33-67 FGs) and 46.9% from 3-point (15-32 3pt FGs), while holding Bahamas to 35.3% from the field and 28.6% from 3-point.
The first quarter saw Thomas help the USA get off to a strong start, including three-straight 3-pointers to put the USA ahead 11-2 two minutes into the game. Bahamas trailed 25-19 after the first period.
Bahamas took a 34-33 lead in the second quarter, but the USA closed on a 21-6 run to enter the halftime locker room with a 54-40 lead. Six players added points for the USA in the second period, including eight points from Mathias.
Bahamas’s Travis Munnings, who led all scorers in the game with 22 points, tallied 12 in the third quarter, but in the second half his side could come no closer than nine points, which was 59-50 at 6:51 in the third. Thomas and Nunnally paced the USA in the third quarter with five points apiece. Both teams tallied 21 points in the third, and it was 75-61 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Including points from six scorers, the USA outscored Bahamas 18-16 in the fourth quarter to earn the 93-77 victory.
“It felt great,” said Thomas. “It’s my first time playing in a little over a year. So, you know, I was a little rusty, but it felt amazing to be out there, competing against really good players, and also representing my country. So, I was happy to be out there, it felt good, and most importantly, we got the win and we’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
Teams will continue to play games in the FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying final window through Feb. 21, after which the top three teams from each of the four groups will earn a berth into the FIBA AmeriCup 2022. With five wins, the USA is assured of its berth into the FIBA AmeriCup 2022, which will serve to qualify teams from the Americas zone for the 2024 Olympic Games.
“I thought we had times where we looked great as a team, and we had times where, you know, we just need to slow down a little bit, but that is kind of expected with some of the young guys,” said Johnson. “But all-in-all, we got a win, and we got to get ready for tomorrow.”
Joe Prunty, USA Head Coach
The USA kind of picked it up in the third or fourth quarter. What adjustments did you make? How did you see the team as a full?
Well actually, I felt really good with the immediate start of the game. I thought Isaiah (Thomas) got off to a quick start, a hot start. He hit, I believe, three 3s pretty quickly there, got us an 11-2 lead. But the one thing we knew – this is a very talented Bahamas team. They have several players from the last two windows, that didn’t necessarily play together, but as a collective group is very talented, and they showed that tonight with their fight and how hard they played. So, they deserve credit. But I also like, with us, how we responded to several different situations that they threw at us, not only on the defensive end in making us execute, but also on the offensive end where we had to guard.
In the second quarter, middle of the second quarter, we saw kind of a struggling Thomas, and you took him out of the game and brought back Joe Johnson. What was your mentality? Or, what did you say to Thomas to get him back focused on the game?
Yeah, in that situation, ironically, he did have a tough stretch there. The interesting part is that it wasn’t for the tough stretch, he had two fouls, and we definitely did not want to get him (more). We had let him stay out there for a little bit, similar to when he got his third in the second half. And so with only five fouls allowed, we really felt we were rolling the dice leaving him out there in a couple of those situations, and one of them was there. So, we left him out for a little bit, and again, he did struggle for a stretch with a couple of turnovers, but also had a steal I believe in that sequence. But the bottom line is really it was the fouls we were more concerned with than anything else. And then in reference to Joe, although he may have come back in that time, it wasn’t specifically for Isaiah. I think he was so solid for us all night. He was the Joe Johnson that we’ve all seen for years with how solid he is and how steady he is.
With Isaiah (Thomas), overall, what were you were expecting?
Sure. And this game is also, it’s a different game in certain ways in regards to the pace in. And when I say pace, I just mean not as many timeouts, you can go longer stretches. There’s a level of physicality. But overall, I thought he played really, really well. Yes, definite turnovers. There were certain things defensively, assignments where he had to fight through things. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. That’s part of our defense, though, in terms of communication. It’s not always just on one guy. But overall, I was very pleased with how we moved on the floor. He was able to get us in our offense, for the most part execute our offense and obviously make some shots. Defensively, I thought he moved well. He was put in, I mean I can’t go through the whole thing, but he was put in a ridiculous amount of situations in regards to pick-and-rolls, post, had him running off screens at times. So, he had a lot of things to think about tonight.
How did you think Brandon Bass looked tonight?
I thought Brandon looked good. I think as a team, I would love to have seen us rebound the ball better, and a lot of times we’re going to point to our bigs for something like that. But that having been said, it’s on our entire team, and so Brandon did some really nice things. Obviously, he shot the ball pretty well, was very efficient in that regard. And I know that he had, again statistically, eight, excuse me, 10 rebounds and 12 points. That’s really solid to get a double-double in this amount of time on the floor. But still going to demand more from him. They present a lot of problems in regards to everybody being able to shoot 3s. And so, at times he was stretched out on the floor and had tougher assignments, but again, 10 rebounds is great. I’m still just going to want more. That’s how we are as coaches.
Today the Bahamas showed a little bit of a zone defense and the middle of the third quarter. How do you feel like the team reacted to that? And how were you preparing for that through the course of this week?
They threw a lot at us. They used a press, they used zone, they use zone and man. They obviously played man. So, they threw a lot of different things at us. I thought we responded, well, not great. Certainly, could be better at it. And part of it was it wasn’t necessarily the plays, it was just the reading the open spots, and that’s part of getting comfortable with playing with one another. We had a very good week of practice. But again, it’s different. That’s why getting on the court and playing in games — you know scrimmages are great and practice – but getting on the floor and playing in games is so important. And it was something that we talked about is that when we see a different coverage, meaning obviously they switched a lot within their man, but the press, or the zone, or some of these other things, it’s really, really important that we just make the read and make plays, as opposed to trying to focus on running plays. And what you saw, is at times we got late in the shot clock, because we held the ball a little bit too much in some of those situations.
Can you talk about the veteran leadership that Joe Johnson brings to the team?
It’s amazing. I’ve been with Joe before. He’s a leader from the standpoint, you can’t help but watch and appreciate what he does and how hard he works at his game, how smart he is, how well he plays the game. He’s so willing to share the ball. He not only creates problems, but he almost sees them before he creates them and then is able to see that open pass, because he sees what’s coming. He’s always played at his own pace. But I really felt, he had hockey assist situations, meaning he made the pass, then somebody else made them. He had other assists that were just spot on to the corners to different people. I thought he caused a ton of problems, made a great effort defensively. And again, a lot of that is leadership by example. He was also vocal tonight. He was very vocal talking to his teammates, talking about what we needed to do and how we needed to play, and believe me it was appreciated a few years back and it’s still very much appreciated now.
USA FORWARD JOE JOHNSON
Talk about how you felt out there and what you thought overall the game.
I felt great. I thought we had times where we looked great as a team, and we had times where, you know, we just need to slow down a little bit, but that is kind of expected with some of the young guys. But all-in-all, we got a win, and we got to get ready for tomorrow.
You’ve played internationally before – in the 2006 FIBA World Cup. How was it tonight? Was it any different?
Yeah, I mean it’s physical. The refs let you play. I love that part. And then I just enjoyed being back out there, to be honest with you. I’m enjoying the moment, and I’m just glad that I got this opportunity.
How did you feel – body wise?
My body feels great. I don’t have no complaints, man. I enjoyed play making out there, you know, just trying to make guys better. So, it was fun for me.
USA GUARD ISAIAH THOMAS
How did it feel?
It felt great. It’s my first time playing in a little over a year. So, you know, I was a little rusty, but it felt amazing to be out there, competing against really good players ,and also representing my country. So, I was happy to be out there, it felt good, and most importantly, we got the win and we’ll be back at it tomorrow.
Overall, how did you feel about the way you played?
I think I played okay. I mean, I’m my biggest critic. I felt like I could have done so much more. But you know, I was in foul trouble a little bit. The turnovers are way too high, so I got to limit those. But I’m also getting used to that new ball. I’ve been playing with one ball for the last 10 years. So, it’s a little different, but I just have to adjust, continue to stay aggressive continue to make plays and, like I said, most importantly it’s about getting the win. But I did feel really good out there. I felt good moving. I wasn’t tired. So, you know, that’s what overall felt the best.
How did you like the international style of play?
I mean, it’s different. It’s definitely different, it is an adjustment. But I mean, it’s basketball at the end of the day. The hoop is 10 foot, it’s round, the court is about the same size. So, I mean for me, I just have to make the adjustments. I don’t know all the rules. I’ve been trying to study all week. I’ve been talking to the refs all game, just trying to figure things out. But I think that’s why, you know, I was in foul trouble early, because I didn’t, I just don’t know the rules as well. But for the most part, I mean, it’s basketball, so you just got to make the adjustments.
How do you think the team jelled over the course of this week and throughout the game today?
This week has been really well. It’s been really good. Like, we’ve been gelling fast, like we’ve only been together a little over a week, we only practiced like four or five days. So for us to play like we did today, even though we had a lot of mistakes, but we continued to play through them, that says a lot about everybody on this team. And I think if we just limit our turnovers, you know, focus on getting a shot at the basket every time, obviously rebounding, we’ll be even better tomorrow.
Do you look at this as kind of a showcase to show teams in the league that you still got what it takes to have opportunity?
I mean, for sure. The world knows I got what it takes. So, it’s just about showing that I’m healthy. My skill didn’t go anywhere. It was just about getting 100% healthy, which I am right now. So, this is definitely a showcase for me, not just for myself, but for, you know, everybody on this team to showcase that, you know, they can play and be able to get jobs around the world. So, you know, individually. Yes, I’m showing that, you know, I’m 100% healthy. I’m moving and I’m myself.
How did you feel? You know, being back in not only yourself, but also looking at your teammates like Joe Johnson that a lot of people have been talking about, and his future and also your future? How do you feel about you two being together at the court?
Overall, I feel amazing. I mean, my wind is great. I mean, I’m in pretty good shape. My physically, I’m 100%. So, you know, I’m not like, sugarcoating that. I mean, I think if you watch today, I’m moving better than I have the last three years. Playing with a guy like Joe Johnson, 18 year NBA vet, eight time All Star, it’s a privilege to play with guy like that. So, you know, he makes it easier for myself. Obviously today, I mean, everybody was rusty. Myself, I haven’t played in a little over a year, so my turnovers were, you know, uncharacteristic, and tomorrow I’ll make the adjustments. I’ll play better, and I think as a whole, as a group, we’ll playing a lot better.
You mentioned physicality. This FIBA it’s very different than the NBA. How do you feel it was?
It’s definitely different than NBA. If you look at somebody wrong in the NBA, you will get a foul. In this, in FIBA, you know, I’m from a tough neighborhood. So like, it’s all about adjusting. Yeah, it’s definitely more physical. But at the end of the day, like I said earlier, it’s basketball and you got to make the right adjustments to be able to succeed in this type of basketball.
What advice do you get to those people who want to play basketball at the highest level, but they think don’t have the height?
I think my biggest thing is don’t ever let anybody tell you can’t be what you want to be in life. Like, I live a dream every day, you know, of my life of being able to play basketball at the highest level, especially the last nine seasons I’ve been able to play in the NBA at a high level. And, you know, I’ve been counted out, you know, my whole life. So, I would tell people to maybe just look at my story or look at, you know, the guys that paved the way before me, and just have that heart in that fight and never, never give up. And, you know, obviously you got to be somewhat decent at basketball to be able to make it, but if you have heart, you have no back-down and you’re willing to work harder than the next guy – that’s giving yourself a chance.
What advice do you have for younger players?
Advice? I mean, they all played at a professional level, so they know what to do. But my advice is just, you know, continue to have fun with the game. Continue to, you know, take advantage of whatever opportunity comes your way, and continue to work hard. Don’t take this game for granted, because, you know, it can be taken away from you at any moment. So if you work hard, you treat the game right, you don’t cheat the game, you know, it will do wonders for you.
How important would be you to stay aggressive throughout the game today?
I mean, that’s who I am. So no matter what, I bring to the table aggressiveness, making plays, putting pressure on the defense, scoring the basketball, and, you know most importantly, be a leader. And, you know, that’s what I try to bring each and every time I step on the floor, and that’s my job on every team that I’ve been on. And, you know, we haven’t been around each other a lot, this USA team, but at the same time, from day one, I’ve been trying to lead. I’ve been trying to lead by example and vocally. And, you know, doing the best I can to be, you know, the best team we can within the short amount of time that we have.
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