USA head coach Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
General comments on the game?
It was a very competitive game, physical, opportunity to learn a lot. The game is a little bit different, obviously from the NBA. A lot of great teams and just an opportunity to get better. That’s the way we look at each of these games, to try and be the best team we can be, and we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re willing.
The defense the last couple of games, the Canada game and this game, are you happy with the way you played?
As I’ve said many times, happy is not really a word coaches employ. We’re basically sick puppies and probably never happy, but that’s got to be our calling card. We’re going to try and execute better and better as time goes on, but defensively we’ve got to put our money there. It’s what we have to be about to have an opportunity. All and all, it’s getting better.
How much of the team building and camaraderie spills over to the defensive end?
It fosters communication. When guys feel comfortable with each other, trust each other, realize that they’re responsible for each other it brings the group closer. So, if somebody make a mistake somebody can cover for it. hat is an advantage I think most teams have over us, where a lot of these teams have been together for a long time. They’ve played together in many situations, and this is the first time these guys have played together. So, when we see that we’re trusting each other, whether it’s as Donovan said making an extra pass at the offensive end or playing the defense that we played tonight, it’s encouraging.
It’s your first game here in Shanghai, what’s your impression of the audience?
Well, I have to be totally honest with you. When the game starts I don’t see or hear anybody except the players and the court. I have no idea how many people were in the stands, how loudly they may or may not yelled, I honestly have no idea.
Would you review what you said to Coach Ginzburg after the game and if there was anything specific from the Czech Republic that caught your eye during the game?
I told him I thought his team executed better than our team did offensively. I think he does a great job, and they showed that they’ve played together and they understand what’s successful in these games in, these kind of tournaments. They lost the game, but he should feel very good about the effort and consistent execution that his team plays with and I just wanted to tell him that. I thought it was great.
Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)
What changed for you guys after the slow start?
For us, it’s defense. I thought we did a good job of getting some stops. That allowed us to get out a little bit, get some momentum and kind of build it from there.
How has this experience been for you and how different is it from the NBA?
It’s been great. Anytime you get a chance to play on an international stage, it’s exciting. I think the team that we have: young, hungry, lot to prove. It’s been a good challenge for us.
You guys have put a lot of work into preparation. What’s it like to finally get the tournament going?
For us, we’ve been talking a lot about defense, and I think that really showed up tonight for us. Offensively in the first half, it was a struggle for us to get things going, but defensively we were able to hold our own, and that allowed us to get back into the game.
Did you see some of the chemistry you’ve been working on come in to play tonight?
Absolutely. We’re a young group, a little inexperienced. The chemistry is building from our very first game until now. We look forward to continuing to build.
What is the one thing you want to take away from tonight’s game?
Just being resilient. It’s not going to happen all at one time. It’s going to take some time. Guys are going to get hot. There are going to be sometimes when things aren’t going your way, but we need to have poise and stick with it.
Did you think you guys were ready for the physicality of the game?
Absolutely. Australia and Canada, those were great exhibition games for us, kind of introducing us since we’re young to the physicality of FIBA. I think tonight finally getting that first real game underneath our belt, it was a good challenge, a well-executing team. It was good for us.
Was Czech Republic a good test for you guys?
Absolutely. They executed extremely well. They put a lot of pressure on us in terms of their sets. I think it was a good challenge for us tonight.
How did you guys become so cohesive defensively so fast?
Just taking ownership of it. Defensively, that’s something that no matter what you’re doing, it’s energy. It’s the communication. It’s the commitment to, ‘I’m going to do my job, so I have my teammate’s back. I have my brother’s back if he messes up.’ That’s what we’re all trying to take ownership of.
Joe Harris(Brooklyn Nets)
On the USA’s defense:
To be honest, it’s just sort of what Pop has instilled in us from the beginning. He talked about how we have so many talented guys, so much depth, the offense is going to come naturally. But defense is where we are going to be able to win the tournament and win games, and that’ going to be our calling card for this tournament.
What has this experience meant to you?
It’s obviously an honor to be here, to represent your country. We are all extremely proud to wear USA across our chests. This is something that not a lot of people have the opportunity to take part in, to have this experience. We are all privileged and honored to be here, but we also have that competitive streak in us where we are here to uphold the gold standard that USA has had in the past Olympics, past World Cups and past World Championships.
On the USA getting into the paint:
I think we did a better job of just getting downhill, playing a little bit more aggressive. The exhibition games, we were still kind of feeling each other out, wanting to play with the pass. Guys weren’t playing necessarily as aggressive, trying to get downhill. I think today, guys were just playing, and it opened up. When Kemba, and Donovan and J.T. are able to get in to the middle of the paint, we have guys that are so good at facilitating and getting the ball into the paint, it just opens things up for everybody else.
How does it feel to get this first game under you belt?
To actually play a game, where you are in the World Cup, there is significance to it, the point differential matters, all these things kind of add up. Obviously, the exhibition games were fun, it was fun to compete against somebody other than ourselves. But, to finally come in and have it be the tournament, have it truly matter, it was fun night for us. It was a fun night for us to come out and just compete on this stage.
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
What are your thoughts on the first tournament game?
It was good first start. First game. Got the jitters out. Got off to a slow start, but I think over time, we put together stops. They’re a great team. They execute their offense well. We just kept grinding and tried to wear them out.
What was the most important factor in helping you win this game?
I think it was our depth, our team effort. Guys that came in off the bench, guys that started the game played as hard as we could from start to finish.
Where do you think this team has made its biggest strides since getting together four weeks ago?
Just trying to learn each other, trying to learn the offense. We all come from different styles of play from different teams. We’re used to doing certain things. I think guys have put aside what they do during the regular season and come together for this team.
About the defensive aggressiveness?
That’s just what we’re going to have to do. We’re a team that got so many athletic guys that can guard different guys from smalls all the way to our bigs, so we just gotta use our length and athleticism to try to wear teams out.
What’s the team’s approach right now?
We’re playing for each other. That’s what Pop’s motto is right now. Make the easy pass and find the open guy. At that point, it comes down to knocking down shots, and hopefully we’re going to continue to keep knocking down shots.
What are your thoughts about playing against Ersan Ilyasova in the next game with Turkey? And your thoughts on how well he’s playing?
Hopefully he doesn’t have a good game on us. Ers is my guy. He’s been my teammate for a long time. It will be fun to play against him in a tournament like this. Hopefully, we hold our own against him.
Donovan Mitchell(Utah Jazz)
General comments on the game?
Similar to what coach said, we’ve got to give credit to them for starters. They’re very competitive. They executed really well, and that’s kind of what we kind of expected coming into this tournament – teams to be really connected and chemistry to be at a high level. But, we did a lot of good things. We guarded it well. We have a lot that we can definitely work on, but it was definitely a good start to the tournament.
You were pretty aggressive on perimeter tonight is that something you guys are focusing on as a team?
I think so, being able to take an open shot, make the simple plays, I think that’s one thing we’ve taken from our exhibition games. And I think we executed that pretty well this game, whether its making the extra pass, coming off of the pick and roll, in transition, whatever it may be, just being able to make the simple play. Whether it’s a shot, or pass, or making one more pass, I that’s one thing we’ve hung our hat on, and I think we’re doing a good job with, but we can definitely do better.
It’s your first game here in Shanghai, what’s your impression of the audience (responding after Coach Popovich was asked the same question)?
I’m a little different (Popovich: You’re supposed to be paying attention to the game – laughing). …. This is my second time in Shanghai this summer, and you guys never disappoint. I think not only the fans from Shanghai and this area, but the Czech Republic fans, although they were down, to see them still chanting, it just shows the passion of international basketball. That’s one thing that I really respect. I think a lot of us really respect that the crowds coming from different countries, just being supportive. I think that’s really cool. Like I said, it’s an honor to be a part of this. I think we all feel that way, really appreciate it. It’s pretty cool, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the tournament.
You mentioned there are rule differences, and everything is being adjusted. How do think those difference are impacting your mindset as you move forward to your next game in the tournament?
I think for us, at the end of the day, it’s basketball, and there’s little things that are obviously different. But, keeping it simple I think is one thing that definitely helps. When you start doing too many thing on both ends, when you start doing too much, be over aggressive and trying to make that homerun play, I think that’s when you get disconnected as a group. The fact that we’re so close, we’ve become so close so fast, I think it’s allowing us to be able to communicate with each other about just staying locked in. Whether they hit a shot at the end of the shot clock, being able to come together, keep it simple and stay together. I think that’s one thing that is a little different.
Jayson Tatum(Boston Celtics)
How did the team play today?
We did pretty well. We won. That’s what’s matters at the end of the day, as long as we win. We did well – some things we can improve on. But, it feels good to get that first win.
How did this team become so cohesive defensively so quickly?
From day one, we understood that’s what’s going to help us win the gold medal, is our defense. So, if we lock in and stay focused for forty minutes as much as we can on the defensive end, we are giving ourselves a great chance every night.
On the USA’s balanced scoring:
We got so many talented guys. Nobody is playing 38 minutes. We are all spreading the wealth and contributing equally. We all know, as long as we win, that’s all that matters. We don’t care who has the most points, who has the least points. All that people care about is winning at the end of the day. So, as long as we win, everybody is going to be happy.
How important is it to have Harrison Barnes and his experience?
Very, very important, especially his veteran leadership, somebody who has been here before. Everybody is contributing.
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
Was the USA’s defense there from the start?
I think it was up and down. In the second half, we really picked it up, and that’s what we got to hang our hat on. Our defensive effort I think is going to win us a lot of games here. Offense, we got plenty of talented guys that can figure it out, but defensively, we got to be able to go out there and make an impact.
Is it easier to go all out with fewer minutes per player?
Definitely. That’s what I do. I go out there, I play my hardest. Try to do that every possession, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s what this team has asked me to do, try and get every rebound, so that’s what I’m going to force myself to do. If it’s five minutes, two minutes, ten minutes, it doesn’t matter, you got to go out there and give it your all.
Can you talk about the team bonding?
It’s been huge, everywhere. Everywhere we go, we kind of do everything together. I think this team has built a really good bond off the floor. Camaraderie is great. We are all playing for one another. I don’t think there is one guy on this team that’s selfish. We all kind of pulling for each other to make the right play, so I think it’s great.
What’s the one big take-away from tonight?
We still got a lot of work to do. I think that it was a good first game, got the jitters out. Everybody was jacked up, amped to play. But, both sides of the ball, we still got a lot of film to analyze, and the teams that we are going to play are going to be better and be gunning for us. So, we are just going to keep getting better.
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
What did you see with the offense when Czech Republic took the early lead?
I feel we were rushing a lot offensively, trying to play too fast. Maybe the adrenaline was just pumping so much, the excitement of being here and it being our first game. I thought whenever we slowed down and played at our pace, that’s when things went right.
How did you come away feeling after tonight’s game?
It went well. We played well, man. I thought defensively, we were great. Like I said, whenever we slowed down our pace, we were much better. Overall, I think we played really well. We played together. We played for each other. That’s what is most important.
Were you expecting them to come after you like they did?
No question. It’s a different game than the NBA. It’s a lot more physical. And, we’re Team USA. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot, especially physicality-wise. Teams are going to be tough against us. We just have to hold our composure, be tough and just play through everything, and I think we’ll be fine.
You guys shot the ball from 3 well tonight after struggling a bit in the exhibition series … is it one of those things that it’s good to see the ball go in?
Of course. Like I said, it’s a different game. The line is closer for us. We’re used to shooting it a little further out. Guys are still trying to catch rhythm. I think we’re a lot better rhythm-wise. We’re going to keep going, keep working and keep working on our shots, keep understanding the shots that we’re going to get during these games. It’s just so different for us. But it’s all about adjusting to this game, and I think we’re doing a great job game-by-game just adjusting.
Did tonight’s defensive effort show you that if we play like this, we’ll be really hard to beat?
We know. We watched the film against Australia and saw the things that kind of caused us to lose, and it helped. It helped us big time. Of course, you don’t want to have any moral victories. It helped us. It was definitely a lesson learned, and we came out against Canada and we played extremely well from the very beginning of the game, and that’s how we want to be. That’s how we have to be. We have to be a team that’s going to pressure those guys on defense and play in transition. That’s who we want to be.
In the press conference, Czech Republic’s coach and player both said you were their favorite player. How do you feel about that respect they have for you?
It’s always good to have respect from opposing teams, especially in FIBA basketball. It’s a whole other country so to know that you know have fans in other places especially me. It’s very humbling. It’s just a great feeling. I’m just a kid from New York from the Bronx and it’s a just a great feeling to have fans all around the world for me.