MANILA, Philippines — Team USA’s Anthony Edwards and Jordan’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added some spice to what otherwise would have been a low-drama game, staging an American playground-style duel that isn’t normally seen at the FIBA World Cup.
The two shooting guards went back-and-forth racking up points and giving the crowd at Mall of Asia Arena something to pay attention to besides the score as Team USA won 110-62 on Wednesday to finish pool play 3-0.
The U.S. moves on to the World Cup’s second round and will play Montenegro (2-1) on Friday and Lithuania (3-0) on Sunday.
Edwards delighted in the meeting with Hollis-Jefferson, who was one of his mentors in training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves his rookie year in 2020. Hollis-Jefferson, a six-year NBA veteran, came in as the event’s second-leading scorer and one of the happy stories of the first week.
“We haven’t seen each other since then, so it was fun,” Edwards said. “And yeah, we was talking with smack out there for sure.”
Edwards threw in several dunks, three 3-pointers and even a behind-the-back pass. He finished with 22 points in 19 minutes and also had eight rebounds and four assists.
Edwards also fouled Hollis-Jefferson twice, which is something Hollis-Jefferson has become an expert at while playing overseas the past two seasons. After drawing 15 fouls in a 39-point showing against New Zealand on Monday, Hollis-Jefferson drove, twisted and baited the U.S. into fouling him eight times.
Hollis-Jefferson finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds, though he was slowed after spraining his left ankle on a drive to the basket in the first half.
In a moment that sort of summed up the show, Edwards scored on back-to-back breakaways during the third quarter. On the first, Jordan’s Amin Abu Hawwas tried to get in Edwards’ way and forced him to abandon a highlight dunk attempt and settle for a layup. Edwards gave him a sideways look for ruining the chance.
Seconds later, after a Jordan turnover, Edwards had the ball on a break again. This time Abu Hawwas slowed down behind Edwards as he threw down a windmill dunk to the delight of the crowd.
Team USA coach Steve Kerr had seen enough late in the third, calling timeout to take out his starters. Edwards said farewell by tossing in a 35-footer that didn’t count.
Edwards was in one of his typical good moods after the contest and, with an average margin of victory of 34 points through three games, was feeling confident about Team USA’s chances of winning the World Cup for the first time since 2014 — especially after being asked about Sunday’s second-round game with Lithuania, which is also undefeated.
“I think we gonna win,” Edwards said with a smile. “We’re undefeated also. I think we have a great chance to win. We got great coaching staff. We got great players. And our confidence is at all times we not really worried about those guys.”
The most important thing that happened for the Americans in the game was a starting lineup change, Kerr’s first of the past month. He put in Josh Hart, who played strongly in the win over Greece on Monday, for Brandon Ingram.
The move was made for Ingram’s benefit, as he was struggling mostly as a spot-up shooter. With the second unit, he was able to play with the ball more in his hands, as he’s used to with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Ingram immediately looked more comfortable as a playmaker and had his best game in Manila, racking up five assists with seven points in 15 minutes.
“We just felt like it was important to take a look at Josh with the starting group and Brandon with the next group to see if the combinations fit,” Kerr said. “I liked what I saw. The game wasn’t competitive, but there was good flow with both groups.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. also had a strong game, with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Serbia, Georgia and Brazil also advanced to the second round with victories Wednesday.