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USA vs Greece: Austin Reaves’ ascendance continues

Austin Reaves is thriving on the global basketball stage

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

MANILA, Philippines — There were approximately 10,978 people in attendance at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena last Saturday night to catch the U.S.A. men’s national basketball team take center stage for the first time in the 2023 FIBA World Cup tournament.

Among the local celebrities, influencers, politicians, and players that were present at the MOA Arena, it was none other than Lakers guard Austin Reaves who stood out as the most popular person in the arena. Every single time Reaves’ name echoed around the arena — from team introductions, to every scored basket — the undrafted guard from Newark Arkansan heard the loudest cheers from the Philippine crowd.

And suffice it to say that Reaves more than lived up to the hype. The 25-year-old concluded his FIBA debut against the New Zealand Tall Blacks with 12 points, six assists, and three steals. He was a plus-minus 19 for the game, played the third most minutes (22:20) for Team USA, and was a pillar for the second unit that propelled the Americans to its first victory of the tournament.

The second unit, led by Reaves, Tyrese Haliburton and Paolo Banchero outscored Team USA’s starters (54-45) by the end of the game. The same group picked up the slack for the starters, who at one point in the first quarter had more turnovers (six) than field goals (two) and trailed by as many as 10 points to start the game. As soon as the second unit took the court, they went on a 10-2 run to close the quarter with the lead.

Thanks to Reaves’ three-pointer to end the first period — the shot that drew an electric roar from the crowd and brought them up their seats — Team USA avoided being on the wrong side of history, as they were on the verge of tallying their lowest-scoring first quarter in the opening games of Olympic and World Cup history.

But the team’s second-unit made sure that didn’t happen.

This USA roster has played six games (including their tune up games) so far, and it’s fair to say that the second unit has arguably been the team’s strongest asset. Why the second unit works so well, according to head coach Steve Kerr, is Reaves and Haliburton’s ability to dictate the pace, move the ball around on offense, and create high-quality shot opportunities for their teammates — roles that the backcourt duo has excelled in since Team USA’s exhibition games.

“Yeah, we feel like those guys are a great change of pace. They move the ball so well. They’re both such good passers and playmakers. They understand when to put it on the floor and attack but they both have the ability to find cutters. It feels like the game almost loosens up for us offensively when we bring those guys in,” Kerr said.

On top of his additional ball-handling duties, Reaves has provided consistent scoring for Team USA since their exhibition games. He was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Anthony Edwards in their last tune-up victory against Germany last week, while his 12 points in Saturday’s game against the Tall Blacks was the third-best on the team after Banchero and Edwards. He led the team in assists and steals as well, proving that his versatility and all-around game have been integral to Team USA’s success.

Like his career arc with the Lakers, Austin is demonstrating each game in the FIBA tournament why he’s a high-level role player who deserves every single minute he’s earned on the floor, and why he’s a fan favorite even across the world. Reaves’ ascendance for Team USA is on full display right now as he continues to shine under the brightest lights on the grandest global basketball stage.

Let’s see if he can shine even brighter in Team USA’s next game against Greece on Monday.

Notes and Updates:

  • Team USA will take on Greece who are currently ranked ninth in the FIBA world rankings. Both teams faced each other in a tune-up game last Aug.19, where the Americans dominated (108-86) from start to finish.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee injury) won’t be available for Greece, making this a more favorable matchup for Team USA.
  • Although in Sunday’s Team USA practice, Kerr reiterated that despite Antetokounmpo's absence, the Americans won’t be taking Greece lightly. The Golden State Warriors head coach is well aware that their competitors will be better prepared and more competitive for this match. After all, Greece defeated Jordan (92-71) in their first game of the FIBA tournament last Friday.

Here’s what Kerr had to say about that:

“We expect Greece to be better than they were a week ago. I know they suffered an injury but they played a lot better than us after the first quarter and we think they’re going to come in with more confidence than they had last time and we have to be ready for it because they gave us trouble in the second half, made a couple of good runs against us. They’re physical, they’re very well coached so we’re ready for a tough game no matter who’s out there.”

Team USA and Greece will tip off at 5:40 a.m. PT on Monday, Aug. 28. The game will be exclusively televised on ESPN 2.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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