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Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson officially 1-0 in World Cup after USA tops New Zealand

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2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team v New Zealand Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Jitters could be expected in the early going for Team USA but just as in the NBA, talent usually wins out. That’s what happened Saturday night in Manila: Team USA beat the New Zealand national team, 99-72, in Game 1 of FIBA World Cup group play, after going down 14-4 at the beginning of the game. After all, Team USA is the youngest and least experienced internationally in the World Cup.

For Nets fans, the game was, in the end, uneventful ... thankfully. Mikal Bridges played solid defense for the Americans and more significantly, Cam Johnson quickly recovered from that looked like a horrific fall near the end of the first second quarter. After lying motionless on the floor for a few (incalculably long for some of us) seconds, the Nets forward got up and continued playing.

Johnson ultimately played nearly 17 minutes, most of them after he fell. He finished with two points, both on foul shots awarded after the foul while missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Bridges finished with seven points in 19 minutes, adding four rebounds, three assists and a steal.

The two also took part in a bit of controversy at the end of the game. As Kristian Winfield tweeted, with the Americans up 25 with 17 seconds left, Cam Johnson decided not to dribble out the remaining time, but instead looked for a scoring opportunity which turned out to be middy from Mikal Bridges...

The physicality of the FIBA game seemed to surprise Team USA as the Kiwis stressed them by pressing early and punishing the athletic Americans underneath. With 5:48 left in the first, the US was down 14-4 and apparently unprepared for New Zealand, ranked 28th in the world. Within a few minutes, Steve Kerr pulled all his starters with the exception of Bridges as he searched for someone who had some poise.

Team USA was able to whittle down the lead and then in the second half, outran the Kiwis.

Pablo Banchero led the Americans’ scoring with 21 points in 19 minutes coming off the bench. His back-to-back threes in the third was the turning point in the game. Anthony Edwards finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, Austin Reaves and Jaren Jackson Jr. contributed 12 points, with Reaves, the most popular American player, adding six assists.

“I love watching them play,” U.S. coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s been an absolute joy to coach them just because of their eagerness to play together and be selfless and to compete.”

Team USA plays again on Monday morning New York time vs. Greece who they beat by 22 last week in an exhibition game. A win over Greece would guarantee a second round berth for the U.S.