SHENZHEN, China — The MVP was good. The USA was better.
And the Antetokounmpo getting talked about most by the Americans when this much-anticipated World Cup matchup was over wasn’t Giannis — but rather Thanasis, the younger brother, who sent U.S. forward Harrison Barnes sprawling with an ill-advised foul from behind on a fast break in the final moments.
Barnes avoided injury, and the U.S. avoided defeat. Kemba Walker scored 15 points and handed out six assists, Donovan Mitchell scored 10 on his 23rd birthday and the U.S. beat Greece 69-53 to move closer to qualifying for the quarterfinals.
“We played well,” Walker said. “We had a great game plan and we stuck to it and we were able to come out with a big win.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s MVP from the Milwaukee Bucks, scored 15 points but sat out the fourth quarter in a move Greek officials said was made to rest him for the team’s last-ditch effort to make the quarterfinals on Monday. He wasn’t available for postgame comment, telling officials that he was too upset.
“It was a good test for us,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “And it helped us get better. That’s our goal, to get better in every one of these games.”
Photo: Ng Han Guan / Associated Press
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Barnes and Derrick White each scored nine points for the U.S., which can clinch a quarterfinal berth Monday in multiple ways — the simplest being a win over Brazil.
It was the first time a reigning NBA MVP faced the U.S. in a major tournament, and Giannis Antetokounmpo has made no secret of how much this event means to him. He mouthed the words of Greece’s national anthem, then when the ball went up he came out firing.
He spun his way to a layup on the first possession, made a 3-pointer on Greece’s second possession and got fouled on a baseline drive on the next trip down the floor. That was five points in the first 43 seconds for Antetokounmpo — but nothing came easy the rest of the way, as the U.S. used multiple defenders on him.
Barnes drew the initial assignment, followed by the MVP’s Bucks teammate Khris Middleton, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Myles Turner.
“We just wanted to make it as hard as possible for him, and I think we did a good job,” Smart said.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo’s foul from behind on Barnes came with 1:43 left in a 13-point game — Barnes jumped a pass for a steal near midcourt, had a clear path for a dunk but the foul sent him tumbling to the court with a hard hit that was ruled a common foul. Players from both teams engaged in words immediately after the play and again after the horn.
“Game was over, so probably was a frustration play or something of that nature,” Barnes said.
Tim Reynolds is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Americans-top-Giannis-Antetokounmpo-Greece-at-14422210.php.