BEIJING (Reuters) – Holders the United States made a sound start to their basketball World Cup title defence with an 88-67 win over the Czech Republic while Australia celebrated an impressive 108-92 victory against Canada on Sunday.
A strong third quarter gave Brazil a 102-94 win over New Zealand, Greece brushed aside Montenegro 85-60 and France beat Germany 78-74 in the day’s most evenly balanced contest.
Having seen 17 of their first-choice players pull out of the 32-nation event in China, a depleted U.S. roster produced a mature performance as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell led the way with 16 points.
Harrison Barnes added 14 and playmaker Kemba Walker chipped in with 13 to cancel out a valiant solo effort by the Czechs’ Chicago Bulls forward Tomas Satoransky, the game’s top scorer with 17 points.
An early 11-7 lead for the Czechs triggered a momentary response by Team USA who never looked back after turning the tide with a 21-7 run, as Boston Celtics guard Jayson Tatum carried their offence with 10 first-half points.
The Americans stayed in cruise control after the break, drawing loud cheers from fans in Shanghai with some spectacular moves and prolific three-point shooting.
Australia, who beat the U.S. 98-94 in the build-up to the tournament, lived up to their billing of the event’s dark horses with a rip-roaring performance as Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova sank 24 points.
The game swung one way and then the other as Canada headed into the fourth quarter with a 77-76 lead after erasing a 52-35 deficit, but they were brushed aside in the final 10 minutes by a more athletic Australian team.
“They (Canada) scored 23 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter and that is obviously something we have to look at and try to fix going forward,” Australia coach Andrej Lemanis told reporters.
“I was very pleased with the effort that we gave and it was good to be tested like that in a game that matters and found a way to just hold our nerve.”
Leandro Barbosa netted 22 points as Brazil outscored New Zealand 28-12 in the third period while France held off a spirited second half fightback by Germany as Evan Fournier poured 26 points and Amath M’Baye added 21 for the winners.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, last season’s most valuable player in the NBA regular season, had a quiet game with 10 points but Greece were never forced to hit top gear against Montenegro.
In the day’s other games, Lithuania thrashed Senegal 101-47, the Dominican Republic edged Jordan 80-76 and Turkey strolled to an 86-67 defeat of Japan.
The top two teams from each of the eight preliminary pools will advance to the second group stage, featuring four groups of four. The top two teams from that stage will progress to the knockout rounds.
Seven teams – two each from the Americas and Europe as well as one apiece from Africa, Asia and Oceania will qualify automatically for next year’s Olympic Games in Japan.