LOS ANGELES — As we watched Friday morning’s practice sessions at the Los Angeles Convention Center, it quickly became clear that Team World was chock full of dudes both very eager to, and very capable of, shooting the lights out from long distance. They brought that firepower to bear as the scene shifted across the street to Staples Center, strafing Team USA in a 155-124 blowout.
A pair of Sacramento Kings led the way for the World, which has now won three of four Rising Stars Challenges since the exhibition shifted to an international format back in 2015. Shooting guard Buddy Hield of the Bahamas scored a team-high 29 points on 12-for-22 shooting, while teammate Bogdan Bogdanovic of Serbia poured in 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting in 22 minutes off the World bench on his way to game MVP honors.
“I got hot first, and then Bogie got hot, he continued to stay hot,” Hield said after the game. “I don’t know, I think Bogie had 29 and I had 26. So it was good tonight for both of us. We represented Sacramento well and represented our countries well.”
Hield and Bogdanovic combined for 12 of the World squad’s 23 3-pointers, on a not-at-all bashful 56 attempts, with some of them coming from deep:
Bogdanovic looked like he was relishing the chance to go one-on-one with Kings teammate-turned-U.S. opponent De’Aaron Fox, popping multiple long-balls over the rookie before celebrating with a “You can’t see me”/”I can’t feel my face” celebration inspired (we suspect) by John Cena, DeShawn Stevenson (or, ideally, both).
“I told [Fox] I would score on him,” Bogdanovic said. “So I should [have] bet, as well. But we didn’t bet. So I didn’t get some extra money.”
The only World player not to attempt a triple? Philadelphia 76ers phenom Ben Simmons, who made his presence felt inside the arc to the tune of 11 points, 13 assists, six rebounds and four steals, helping pace a World team that took control of the game in the second quarter and never looked back, leading by as many as 39 points in a rout that saw eight World players finish in double figures.
Asked during his post-game interview session to pick a “play of the game,” Simmons quickly quipped, “Probably just looking up when we were up 30.” (Simmons also had the best like of the night, when asked what he thought was missing from his bid to be a full-fledged All-Star in his first year: “I think just votes.”)
Post-game recollections of high points were a little tougher to come by for the U.S. team, which
“Probably Dennis Smith’s missed dunk at the very end,” said Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, who scored 20 points with seven rebounds in his home gym. “That was probably the favorite part of today. He almost put his elbow in the rim, so, probably that.”
Kuzma’s recall aside, the U.S. did turn in some entertaining made dunks, too, including a loud off-the-glass crush by Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell that got us all very interested in seeing what he might have up his sleeve for Saturday night’s Verizon Slam Dunk …
… and Boston Celtics sophomore Jaylen Brown, who led the U.S. with 35 points and 10 rebounds, and came through with a super-clean left-handed throw-the-legs tomahawk that made us wonder whether he might get a dunk contest invite in the near future:
“Playing in front of a world audience, and definitely I feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, so I come out with that tenacity that I want people to recognize,” Brown said after the game. “I want people to see. I just come out and play with that fire, and let everything else fall into place.”
It all fell into place for the World squad, showcasing the depth and breadth of shot-making talent that continues to stream into the NBA from overseas more and more with each passing year.
“You know, it was [an] All-Star Game, so it wasn’t like a really competitive game,” Hield granted. “But the world has been getting better. I’m proud to see a lot of guys around the world from France, Australia. You have [Joel] Embiid from Cameroon. Everybody is showing progress, and the world is showing progress, catching up to American basketball. You know, this shows how hard we’ve been working, and how dedicated we are to this game.”
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