Joe Johnson’s game and more notes from FIBA World Cup qualifiers
Do you know that Joe Johnson will turn 41 in June?
Do you think he knows?
Do you think he cares?!?
Well, as noted last week, Joe Jesus is back on Team USA this week. You may or may not remember that Johnson was part of the 2006 World Championship American-squad that won a bronze medal. (The redeem team was still two years away.) Additionally, Johnson suited up for Team USA one year ago, playing in two FIBA AmeriCup 2022 qualifiers last February. Seven months later, he won his second BIG3 MVP Award in as many seasons, since the 2020 campaign was canceled due to COVID. Johnson even signed a 10-day NBA deal in December with the Boston Celtics, and scored a garbage time bucket in his only appearance.
We saw Johnson play again last night for the first time since, and he led Team USA to a 93-76 victory over Puerto Rico in Washington D.C. last night, beginning the second-window of round one for the FIBA World Cup 2023 qualifiers with a win. Team USA had trailed Puerto Rico 44-42 at halftime, but flipped the game on its head with a 32-14 third-quarter outburst. Johnson, who played about 23 minutes, led the way with a team-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, also making 4-of-6 free throws, and collecting four assists.
And he looked … like Joe Johnson!
0:38 – Maybe a travel, maybe not, but off the screen, catches, triple threats, puts the spin on Luis Hernández, and creates just enough space to rise for the mid-range jumper. Vintage Joe Johnson, as Michael Cole would annoyingly say.
0:58 – Former Kent State and Christ The King standout Christopher Ortiz knew what was coming. He played fine defense but still couldn’t stop Johnson from posting-up, dribbling four times, fading away, and drilling in the well-contested turnaround. Elite full-court run in August type of bucket.
1:22 – Johnson gets a pass from Langston Galloway, quickly drives baseline on Ortiz, and floats one in over 6-foot-9 Ismael Romero after just one dribble.
1:42 – Receives a pass on the right wing, pump fakes gets Jonathan Rodriguez to bite, takes two dribbles, sees that both Romero and Tyquan Rolon won’t commit, so Johnson rises up for the open leaner.
That bag is still there. His game is still gorgeous, and he didn’t need a three-point make the entire night to pull away from a fellow top-20 team in the nation, and one of the best in the Americas. (As a Puerto Rican, it was also 20% hurtful.)
Let’s also shoutout former Golden State Warrior center Jordan Bell, currently of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League, who played a great enough game to get his own highlight reel (!!) afterward. Bell finished with eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and two assists in 23 minutes off the bench, and was a game-best +21 for the night. Puerto Rico was led by Javier Mojica (Northeast Conference shoutout!), who led with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while former West Virginia point guard Gary Browne Ramírez added 16 points and four assists.
The W improves Team USA to 2-1, and drops Puerto Rico to 1-2, both of whom will return to action to close the Group D second-window on Sunday. In Washington D.C., Team USA will face 3-0 Mexico, who defeated them in Chihuahua City in November, and in Havana, Cuba, Puerto Rico will play against Cuba, who they beat in November, as well. Mexico defeated Cuba 82-72 on Thursday, and the rest of the Americas will begin play on Friday the 25th or Saturday the 26th.
In the African region, South Sudan defeated Rwanda 68-56 and the Democratic Republic of Congo outlasted Kenya 66-56, both on Friday morning, in what were the first games played of any kind in Groups B and D in the African Region. By the time you read this, other games might’ve been played, which you can follow here. Again, as outlined last week, especially keep tabs on Cameroon vs. Tunisia, which’ll begin at 4 p.m. EST/1 p.m. PST.
In Asia, South Korea reportedly withdrew from qualifiers this window due to COVID protocols, forfeiting Thursday’s game to the Philippines, which officially goes down as a 20-0 final. That matters because point differential could help break a tie if needed, and South Korea is currently last in Group A, where they’re the only winless team in the group. The Philippines, who’ll host the 2023 World Cup along with Japan and Indonesia, are 2-0 after also beating India 88-64.
So, Indonesia is 0-3, and their automatic World Cup bid – which is usually the case for hosts – is provisional due to their lack of international success. So far, they’ve lost to Lebanon 96-38, and again 110-64, before having a slightly better loss against Saudi Arabia, 95-66. In Group C, not only are Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon each 2-1, but Indonesia is dead last with a -133 point differential, the worst out of anyone in World Cup qualifiers at the moment. Do with all that what you will. For more updates on Asian qualifiers, go here.
And, in Europe, Lithuania, now 3-0, remained undefeated after a narrow 78-77 win over Bosnia; as did Spain after winning 88-74 against Ukraine; and Russia, who won 80-69 over the Netherlands. Czech Republic, who stunned many and finished sixth in the 2019 World Cup, is now 0-3 after losing to Bulgaria, 79-70 on Thursday. Currently, they're last in Group F, and on pace to not even return to the World Cup without a substantial turnaround. Europe is the busiest of the regions and will spawn the most qualifiers, so the bulk of their games are from Friday through Sunday. For more on Europe, here you go.
There’s a lot else worth getting to, but we’ll leave some on the table for when we reconvene on Wednesday. By then, this window will be over and we could see where things stand before round one finishes over the summer.
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