Head coach Steve Kerr said the United States will be a better team after surviving their first real scare of the Basketball World Cup to beat Montenegro on Friday.
The US breezed through the group stage with three wins out of three but had to battle hard to see off Montenegro 85-73 in their second-round opener in Manila.
Star shooting guard Anthony Edwards scored no points in the first half as a Montenegro team led by Chicago Bulls centre Nikola Vucevic gave the US as good as they got.
The Americans eventually stamped their authority on the game and Kerr said “it wasn’t pretty but we just kept competing”.
“You definitely get better with a game like this rather than a 40-point victory, because you have to feel it,” he said.
“You have to go through an experience where it’s a tight game and every possession matters. That’s where you improve.”
Edwards recovered from his first-half struggles to lead the US in scoring with 17 points.
A scrappy game saw both teams make mistakes throughout and Kerr said he “didn’t think we moved the ball well at all”.
Tyrese Haliburton, who scored 10 points and had 6 assists for the Americans, said his team “didn’t start the game the way we wanted to”.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game, but what FIBA games really are?” said the Indiana Pacers guard.
“We figured it out though. Any time you win you feel good about it but we definitely want to watch some film tomorrow and see how we can be better.”
Vucevic scored 18 points for Montenegro, who came into the second round with two wins and a loss.
Kerr paid tribute to his opponents as “a really well-coached team”.
“They had their game plan, everybody knew their roles and they executed,” said Kerr.
“They got 22 offensive boards, tried to pound us inside but I’m proud of our guys.”
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