U.S. forward Paolo Banchero shoots over New Zealand forward Isaac Fotu during the second half on August 26. (Michael Conroy – The Associated Press)
By TIM REYNOLDS
MANILA, Philippines – Paolo Banchero knows all about the haka, the traditional dance New Zealand players performed before the Aug. 26 game as a traditional rallying cry to show national pride and serve as a challenge to opponents.
He accepted this challenge.
Banchero scored 21 points in his first World Cup game off the bench and Anthony Edwards added 14 as the USA shook off an early 10-point deficit to beat New Zealand 99-72 in the tournament opener for both teams.
“I love watching them play,” USA coach Steve Kerr said. “It was an absolute joy to coach them just because of their eagerness to play together and be unselfish and compete.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Austin Reaves each scored 12 for the Americans, who went undefeated in six games this summer — the first five of which were exhibition games. This game was the first that counted for the Americans, who are trying to win the World Cup for the sixth time and erase the memory of the seventh place in the biggest FIBA tournament four years ago in China.
It wasn’t easy for the pre-tournament favorites: Their lead was only 12 with 2:01 left in the third, and then Banchero hit a 3-pointer on a possession to give the USA its biggest lead of the night. that point and the Americans maintained control from there.
“And his defense,” Edwards said of Bancher. “I think his defense fueled his offense.”
The New Zealand players performed that pregame haka — a performance of dancing, stomping and chanting by the entire 12-man roster — with the American players standing on the other side watching silently.
The hack worked; New Zealand took a quick 14-4 lead. A 12-2 USA run tied the game, Tyrese Haliburton’s 3-pointer with 6:58 left in the first half put the Americans ahead for good, and the lead was 45-36 at halftime and the winners pulled away.
“They ran a little bit, but no nerves,” Edwards said. “That’s what we do. We put in the work.”
Haka took Bancher back to his high school days. By playing soccer on a team with Pacific Islanders, Banchero actually made a haka. He knows its meaning, he knows its purpose — and it may have spurred him to his best game yet this summer.
“It was good to see up close,” Banchero said. “I actually enjoyed it.”
The U.S. could secure a spot in the second round as early as Monday when it faces Greece (1-0) in a rematch of an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. The Americans won that game 108-86, with both teams holding back knowing they would be playing for higher stakes in Manila.
Greece coach Dimitrios Itudis said he expected his side’s opening game – a 21-point win over Jordan on Saturday – to be tough. After the match, he was asked what he expected from the match against the USA
“Harder,” Itoudis said. “Much heavier.”
New Zealand >> No player on the New Zealand roster has played in an NBA game. Players on the American roster combined for 49,395 points in 3,454 NBA games, including the playoffs. … Finn Delany and Shea Ili each scored 12. … The U.S. reserves outshot the New Zealand bench 54-23.
USA >> Jackson Jr. had a perfect shooting night — 4 for 4 from the field, 4 for 4 from the line. … The Americans used 10 players in the first quarter and looked for a combination that worked. … USA outscored New Zealand by 28 points in Josh Hart’s 15 minutes of play. … Haliburton and Jalen Brunson each scored 10 points for the Americans.
The two American assistant coaches split scouting responsibilities during the tournament. Gonzaga coach Mark Few was tasked with reporting for the game against New Zealand, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue will do so for the game against Greece on August 28, and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra will do so for the game against Jordan on August 30.
The USA has played New Zealand four times in the senior men’s competition and won all of them. The USA won 102-56 in the 2000 Olympics, 110-62 in the 2002 World Championships and 98-71 in the 2014 World Championships.
New Zealand: v Jordan on August 28.
USA: Match with Greece on August 28.
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