Team USA played in its first World Cup tune-up game on Monday, and it actually started as a closely contested game. Through the first quarter, Team USA was up just six and only managed to increase their lead by one in the second quarter, with the score being 50-43 going into halftime. But thanks to an explosive 20-0 run in the second half, Team USA managed to pull away and defeat Puerto Rico 117-74. They were propelled by a balanced attack that saw seven different players score in double figures with Anthony Edwards and Cam Johnson both leading the way with 15 points apiece.
Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson didn’t disappoint either. He ended up getting the start, as many anticipated, and had himself a somewhat quiet but solid night that saw him finish the game with an 11 point, 12 rebound, three assist, double-double. Brunson, who was recently dubbed as a natural leader by Team USA coach Steve Kerr, looked very comfortable out there as the floor general and figures to be an integral part of the team going forward.
But while Brunson looked good, it may have been Josh Hart who ended up being talked about more last night, and it wasn’t because of the way he played. We’d love to talk about Hart’s highlights and stats next, but we can’t because he sat the game due to rest, which caught the attention of some fans. Given it’s the offseason and it’s Team USA’s first game, rest seemed like a rather odd reason to miss a game. That is until you remembered or realized Hart’s current contract situation. The veteran shooting guard, who opted in to his player option earlier this offseason, is eligible to sign an extension with the Knicks later this week. Obviously it is all just speculation, as there’s been no real reports about an extension coming up in the immediate future, but the timing of Hart missing an exhibition game for “rest” does seem a bit odd since he hasn’t played in an actual game since the Knicks were eliminated in May.
Regardless, it is nice to have a couple of Knicks players on the national team this time around since they haven’t had a player on Team USA since Carmelo Anthony. We get to keep an eye on just how Brunson orchestrates a talented offense and how he balances being aggressive and being a facilitator. And with Hart, it should be interesting to see the kind of impact someone with his heart, energy, and intangibles has on the international stage. Team USA will be facing off against Slovenia, who will be lead by Brunson’s former teammate, Luka Doncic, on Saturday, August 12th, at 3:30 PM EDT.