After falling down by double digits while Germany flaunted its size, coach Steve Kerr turned to Tyrese Haliburton, who combined with Austin Reaves and Anthony Edwards to carry USA to a game-breaking fourth-quarter run and a 99-91 victory in Abu Dhabi.
Brunson sat for the final 16 minutes, reigniting the question about whether the Knicks standout or Haliburton should start at point guard for the tournament favorites. With his experience and playmaking, Brunson held the spot as the Americans went 5-0 in exhibitions.
But defense became an issue Sunday against Germany, the USA’s toughest opponent of the tune-ups. Brunson finished with just eight points in 15 minutes against German point guard Dennis Schroder, while Haliburton, who is about four inches taller than Brunson, contributed 16 points in 21 minutes — most of it in the second half.
Regardless, the Americans will have plenty of time to sort through the rotation. Their group in the World Cup is excessively easy. First up on Saturday is New Zealand, a non threat. Then Greece without Giannis Antetokounmpo, who pulled out of the World Cup. Then Jordan, a gimme victory.
The Americans need only to finish in the top-2 of that group. Easy peasy. But it could subsequently turn dicey based on the opponent in the knockout rounds. In the 2019 World Cup, Team USA was bounced in the quarterfinals by France. It represented our nation’s worst finish ever in the marquee FIBA tournament, becoming the impetus for a redemption performance at the 2021 Olympics.
But without the same level of prestige and atmosphere, the World Cup isn’t embraced by the NBA stars like the Olympics. Team USA’s roster is plenty evidence. Not one player was named to All-NBA last season. Not one member was on the Olympic championship squad from just two years ago. Other than Edwards, who scored 34 points Sunday, it’s hard to peg a true superstar.
The solution against Germany was a six-man rotation of Haliburton, Edwards, Reaves, Mikal Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Bobby Portis for the final six minutes.
The Wagner brothers, Franz and Mo, combined for 28 points for Germany. The Germans had 15 offensive rebounds, nearly double USA’s total.
But the Americans held the opponent scoreless for six straight minutes toward end the fourth quarter, keying the comeback with Brunson on the bench.