The United States beat New Zealand, 99-72, in the first game for the Red White and Blue in the FIBA World Cup in Manila, Philippines. And while Lakers guard Austin Reaves came off the bench again, he made one of the biggest impacts on the game, ending the night with 12 points on 4-6 shooting and 6 assists as he continues to shine as one of the American’s best players.
Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero was the player of the game for the U.S., scoring a team-high 21 points off the bench while shooting an efficient 8-10 from the field.
Things started well for Reaves, as he received the loudest applause of any Team USA member when his name was called pregame. A noticeable smirk was on Reaves’ face when he heard the reaction from the Lakers fans in Manila.
Reaves started the game on the bench, and the USA starters struggled, trailing 14-6 when Reaves was subbed in at 4:06 to thunderous applause.
“I could be wrong, Mike, but Austin Reaves might be the most popular player here.” Broadcaster Jeff Taylor said.
He was not wrong.
Reaves’ impact was immediately felt, as he penetrated to the basket and made a nice pass to Banchero, who finished with a dunk. Reaves stayed on the court for the rest of the quarter and hit a three to close out the frame on a 13-4 run, taking a one-point lead heading towards the second quarter.
USA maintained control throughout the rest of the first half thanks to Anthony Edwards’ scoring, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s rim protection and Reaves’ off-the-bench production, taking a 45-36 lead into the break.
Midway through the third quarter, Reaves came back into the game with USA already up by double digits. Quickly after subbing onto the floor, he forced a steal on Jordan Ngatai and finished the possession with an athletic finish at the rim, prompting New Zealand to call timeout. The following possession he hits another jumper, giving the USA its largest lead of the night to that point. He had ice in his veins, and let the Manila crowd know by doing the iconic D’Angelo Russell celebration.
USA Basketball continued to pile on throughout the closing quarter, never taking their foot off the gas and extending their lead to as many as 27 points. After a stellar block by Banchero midway through the quarter followed by another jumper, all hope for an upset by New Zealand was lost as the U.S. cruised to victory.
It was about as strong of a debut as Reaves could’ve had to start this tournament. He was efficient as a scorer, played good defense and the only blemish was his one turnover. He did everything to help the team win and made a case for starting against Greece on Monday.
For Lakers fans, the biggest takeaway is Reaves is getting competitive reps on a global stage and performing well. Barring injury and potential fatigue, playing this level of competition and quickly transitioning to the NBA season could catapult him to another level for the purple and gold in 2023-24.
Reaves and the U.S. will play their next game on Monday, Aug. 28 vs. the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Greek squad. That one will be another early start for those of us on the West Coast, with tip-off slated for 5:30 a.m. PT.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.