Minnesota Timberwolves superstar guard Anthony Edwards was back in action with Team USA on Tuesday, as the Stars and Stripes took on Team Italy in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Quarterfinals looking to avenge their stunning 110-104 loss to Team Lithuania on Sunday. It certainly wasn’t Edwards’ fault, as he finished with 35 points on 54% shooting.
The United States struggled to establish themselves in the opening 3:30 of the game, but bounced back strongly using a 1-2-2 full-court press with Mikal Bridges, Edwards and Josh Hart up in the back-court, while Paolo Banchero and Jalen Brunson played safety in the front-court. USA Head Coach Steve Kerr said it was a way of capitalizing on the depth advantage the Americans have over every team in the tournament.
Asked Steve Kerr post-game about putting early full-court pressure against Italy and the reasoning behind it: “We know that the biggest advantage that we have is the depth on our roster. We can play really hard for 5 or 6 minutes and then bring another 5 guys in. Most teams can’t… pic.twitter.com/kGdLNben24— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) September 5, 2023
After forcing a turnover on the first possession they deployed the pressure, the USA’s defense settled in and dominated. The Americans’ offense struggled until the starters left the floor at the 4:24 mark. Over the final 4:24, Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton was in complete command, dishing three assists and draining a transition 3 to help expand the USA lead to 24-14 after one quarter.
Italy continued to struggle with the USA defense in the second quarter, as scored only 10 points on 4/20 shooting (20%), turned it over four times and made just two assists in the second quarter. The United States’ lead grew to 46-24 at halftime as a result of that defense combined with nine points in the period from Brooklyn Nets star Mikal Bridges.
Edwards missed his first four shots (one was a grenade at the end of the half) and went into the locker room scoreless for the second time in the last three games, but did assist on three makes in the second quarter that resulted in eight points. A pair of those came in pick-and-roll action — a drop-off to Banchero for a dunk, and a corner skip to Bridges for 3.
Ant then connected on his first and only make on the first possession of the third quarter, before delivering his best highlight of the game moments later.
The United States played the entire second half on cruise control en route to a 100-63 blowout victory over Italy, and Edwards sat on the bench for the final 15:33 of play. Edwards finished with three points on 1/5 shooting from deep and 0/1 on 2s, three assists to one turnover, three rebounds, and a block, and was a +20 in 18:17 of play, his fewest minutes played of the tournament.
Here are Edwards’ offensive highlights from Tuesday’s win:
Edwards wasn’t able to come close to matching his otherworldly performance in Sunday’s loss to Lithuania. He didn’t drive much at all, mostly settling for 3-point jumpers in the flow of the offense. Coming off of a monster effort, you’d expect Ant to want to at least try to take control of the game as a scorer, but never really asserted himself on the offensive end. No one knows how much of that was fatigue, purposefully trying to get others involved, or something else.
The Americans will need a much more aggressive version of Edwards when they face the winner of Latvia (who already eliminated France) and Germany, who nearly beat the USA in an Abu Dhabi tune-up game before Edwards led a furious comeback resulting in a 99-91 win. Edwards scored 34 points on 11/21 shooting in that game, electrifying his teammates and a raucous crowd eager to see how the Americans responded to their first real test of their exhibition season.
Anthony Edwards did everything he could to put his country on his back today.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) August 20, 2023
A special highlight reel from his 34-point performance in a 99-91 USA victory over Germany:pic.twitter.com/RZn69b1qxt
Edwards has been the go-to guy for Team USA when adversity strikes, as he takes his game to another level when the stakes rise. The United States won’t be able to coast quite like they did against an Italian team incapable of putting up points in a hurry, so one would expect they’ll look to Ant more earlier on in the game to help him establish a rhythm that carries the team’s offense.
After catching a few DNP-CD’s, Timberwolves 2022 second-round pick and Team Italy guard Matteo Spagnolo played the final 5:26 of the game, the fewest minutes played of anyone on the team. He did not score, as he missed all three shots, and did not record any counting stats.