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USA Overcomes Slow Start in Blowout Win Over Puerto Rico

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The United States held just a five point lead at halftime, but pulled away in the second half to take down Puerto Rico 112-86.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA picked up its third straight blowout victory in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, defeating J.J. Barea and Puerto Rico 112-86.

The contest was a much closer affair than Wednesday's Dominican Republic beatdown, with the USA leading just 52-47 at the end of the first half. Puerto Rico's largest lead came late in the first quarter when they were up 20-15 on the United States, but the Americans then went on a 9-2 run to take a 24-22 advantage with just seconds remaining in the quarter. Puerto Rico's Ricky Sanchez threw down a thunderous put-back slam just before the buzzer to even up the score at 24.

Puerto Rico again kept it close throughout the second quarter, going on short runs just when it seemed that the United States was pulling away. Klay Thompson gave the USA some separation with this ridiculous heave at the buzzer that extended the lead to five points at 52-47.

In the second half the United States turned it around, out-scoring Puerto Rico 35-20 in the third quarter to blow the game wide open and put a halt to the upset attempt. The final quarter was more of the same, with the USA winning the final 10 minutes 25-19.

So what changed between the first and second half for the USA? Most notably it was the offense. In the latter half of the contest the ball moved much more for Team USA. The ball swung across the arc to find open shooters and the guards found cutters for easy opportunities at the rim. That didn't seem to happen before the halftime break, as the USA's perimeter players settled all too often for isolation opportunities. There were long stretches of the first half where it seemed that the United States didn't run a single play, and it showed on the scoreboard.

Take for instance this possession from the first half, where James Harden brings the ball up the court and immediately steps back into a difficult contested three-pointer. After the missed shot Puerto Rico grabbed the rebound and used their numbers to push the ball up the court, swing it to the right wing and knock down a wide open three.

Stephen Curry led the USA with 20 points on 6/7 from the field and 4/5 from behind the arc. Rudy Gay and James Harden each added 13 points, while Derrick Rose scored six points and dished out four assists in 13 minutes. Rose missed Wednesday's exhibition against the Dominican Republic as a precaution for knee soreness.

J.J. Barea led Puerto Rico with 16 points on 6/12 shooting, and Carlos Arroyo contributed 15 points.

The USA is not required to cut the roster down to 12 players before their final exhibition game against Slovenia in Spain on August 26th, but it appears as if the final roster may be set. Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Andre Drummond and DeMar DeRozan each rode the pine for all 40 minutes against Puerto Rico, despite nearly the entire fourth quarter being garbage time.