As Anthony Edwards (USA - Group J), Karl-Anthony Towns (DOM - Group I), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (CAN - Group L), and Matteo Spagnolo (ITA - Group I) await their FIBA World Cup round two games on Friday, there were still a couple games that took place Thursday morning in the “Classification Round.” Though these teams are already eliminated from World Cup medal contention, the games will still hold weight as many of these nations have yet to punch their ticket to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Let’s take a gander at how the other pair of Minnesota Timberwolves fared.
Li Kai’er (Kyle Anderson) - China
China was one of eight countries that had yet to log a single victory in the tournament so far. They were the underdog entering their game against a solid Angolan team, who nearly qualified for the second group stage. The difference in size and athleticism was obvious early, as Angola spammed ball pressure on the Chinese and took a double-digit lead in the first quarter off offensive rebounds and points in the paint.
Things finally started to shift for the Chinese team as they finally unleashed Li Kai’er as the primary ball-handler/point guard. He generated great looks for his teammates which forced Angola to send China to the charity stripe a ton. Kai’er also went on a 8-point spurt to close the half, mitigating Angola’s big lead.
The second half went much smoother for Kai’er’s squad, as they continued with an effective zone defense that stymied Angola’s pressure on the glass and in the paint. Most notably, Hu Jinqiu came off the bench and energized his team with a massive 20-point performance, giving Team China a look they haven’t had before. His contributions built up a 15-point Chinese lead early in the fourth quarter. Angola fought valiantly to close the gap to nearly single-digits in the final minutes, but a personal 5-0 run by Kai’er shut the door closed.
Big 83-76 victory for China over Angola as they fight for Olympic qualification status. Li Kaier (Kyle Anderson) led the way with:— Leo S (@Y0Leo) August 31, 2023
7 REB (Team-high)
38 MINS (Team-high)pic.twitter.com/5TT4z7ircr
It was an impressive victory for China, considering their opponent and the way the game started, but the in-game adjustments were vital to their comeback win. Kai’er spoke about how important it was to get key contributions from players who hadn’t had much playing time earlier in the tournament and how much a win means for both his team and the country he represented.
Team China has just one more game Saturday 9/2 at 7:00am CT versus the host country, Philippines (0-4). Not only will it be a raucous environment as Jordan Clarkson and his team tries to notch their first win, but it will also have big implications for China and their hopes to earn a bid to the Olympics. They are looking to beat out Japan (2-2) for a spot so their eyes will also glued to the result between Japan versus Cape Verde on Saturday.
Rudy Gobert - France
The disappointing performance by the French team has been one of the biggest talking points of the World Cup so far. After getting swiftly embarrassed and eliminated from medal contention in just two games, Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert sat out his team’s lone victory thus far against Lebanon with an apparent ankle injury. With France being the host country for next year’s Olympic games, it felt as though Gobert, nor his team, had anything to play for in the classification round.
Except for pride.
This looked like it almost backfired though, as they opened up their first game against winless Iran by posting a measly 9 points in the first quarter and trailing by three as they entered the second period. However, they cranked up their defensive pressure and ultimately held the Iranians to an astounding 30.8% from the field. They pummeled Team Iran inside, outscoring them 44-22 in the paint, eventually taking a 82-50 lead near the end of the game. Seven players from France scored at least 8 points or more, including Gobert, who nearly double-doubled in 20 minutes of action with 9 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 4 blocks, and 1 missed three pointer (!). That effort earned him the TCL Player of the Game honors.
Gobert won’t have to wait long to redeem France’s reputation on the international stage as they play host host to the Summer Olympics. In the meantime, the French have one more classification game against Côte d’Ivoire (1-3) on Saturday 9/2 at 4:45am CT.
I urge you all to start your three-day Labor Day weekend early and skip work on Friday. Go to bed early tonight and wake up at 3:40am CT to watch Edwards take on Nikola Vučević (MNE), followed by a Caribbean showdown between KAT and Tremont Waters (PUR) at 7:00am CT, with a dessert of NAW versus Brazil at 8:30 am CT.