For much of Team USA’s campaign in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, one had to wonder what Mikal Bridges’ role really was. Would he defend the team’s best player? How much of the scoring would fall on his shoulders? As of the one elder statesmen, would he be the leader to rally the troops?
It turns out, all he needed to be was the Mikal Bridges the Brooklyn Nets know very well.
Fresh off a loss against a Lithuania squad that exited faster than they could stick their tongues out, Bridges led a vaunted American offense that blew past Italy in a 100-63 victory. He did most of his damage in the first half, when he poured on 14 points on seven shot attempts. The game was pretty much over by the third quarter and so Bridges and some of the main rotation players got to rest before Friday’s semifinal against either Germany or Latvia.
The aggression was evident from the jump, as Bridges was getting to his spots and being a pest on the defensive end. As his confidence grew, so too did his point total. That it came when Anthony Edwards, Team USA’s leading scorer, was not having one of his better games was a big boost. As nice as it was though, he may have to tone down the celebrations.
All things considered, Bridges’ performance and that of the Americans served as a great response to the setback that came with a loss to Lithuania. The internet had fun celebrating Team USA’s demise, but that seemed short-lived. Not only did the Americans drop to what in hindsight turned out to be a more favorable matchup, but it allowed them to reassess themselves heading into the knockout stages.
In a competition like the FIBA World Cup, where there are only short breaks in between contests and teams are only as good as their last games, the lessons reveal themselves in the losses. The biggest takeaway from the loss to Lithuania was to avoid slow starts and with the way Bridges and his Villanova Wildcat teammates opened the game, they clearly got the message.
Things likely won’t get easier from here, as the rest of the remaining field have the personnel to exploit the Americans’ troubles against bigger frontlines, but the offensive firepower Team USA showed against Italy should give their upcoming opponents something to think about.
The Mikal Bridges many have come to know in the most recent NBA season made an appearance for three quarters in Team USA’s masterclass over Italy. One would hope he makes another appearance in the semifinal (and hopefully the final) of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, but Bridges had nonetheless set the tone for the Americans’ quest for the Naismith Trophy.