Thomas’ late 3 helps US top Cuba 95-90 in Cup qualifying

Nov 28, 2021, 2:52 AM | Updated: 4:53 pm

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico (AP) — Isaiah Thomas made sure USA Basketball’s road to the 2023 World Cup didn’t begin with a major upset.

Thomas scored 21 points, including a sealing 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds left, and the Americans erased a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Cuba 95-90 on Sunday in their World Cup qualifying opener.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to put USA on your chest,” the 32-year-old Thomas said. “So, anytime USA Basketball comes calling, I’m always going to be for it. We have a great group of guys, a great coaching staff and it was fun to be out there. It was a great game. It was a tough game for us.”

The lead was just two after a Cuba basket by Jasiel Rivero with 34 seconds remaining. The U.S. didn’t call a timeout, and Thomas kept the ball in his hands for the entirety of what became the biggest possession of the game for the Americans.

The two-time NBA All-Star — who averaged 29 points for the Boston Celtics in 2016-17 and spent a considerable amount of time battling injuries since — waited for a screen, used it and connected from near the top of the key for a 93-88 lead.

“We have prepared for those moments,” U.S. coach Jim Boylen said. “We were organized. And he made a huge play.”

Thomas — an NBA free agent with hopes of getting back into the league — last appeared on the national team in February, starting two games during qualifying for the AmeriCup. He led the team with 14 points per game in those contests, with the U.S. defeating the Bahamas and Mexico.

He was in the NBA briefly last season, averaging 7.7 points in three games with New Orleans.

“For me, personally, the ultimate goal is to get back in the NBA,” Thomas said. “But I just love playing the game of basketball. So, obviously, at some point, if the NBA isn’t an option I’ve got to look at options overseas. But I’m in love with the game. No matter where I’m playing, I have no pride whatsoever. I love competing and I love playing against the best players in the world.”

Brian Bowen II and B.J. Johnson each scored 16 points for the U.S., while Justin Anderson added 10 for the Americans.

Rivero, who plays professionally in the top Spanish league, led all scorers with 34 points for Cuba. Karel Guzman scored 18 and Yoanki Mensia finished with 12 for Cuba.

“We give all the respect to Cuba,” Thomas said. “They were a hell of a team. They made everything tough for us. They were talented.”

Marcos Chacon’s 3-pointer with 8:45 left gave Cuba an 80-73 lead. The Americans answered with a quick 9-0 run — Bowen and Thomas made 3-pointers to get the U.S. within one, then Thomas added a three-point play to cap the flurry and put his team back on top 82-80.

It was tied twice more from there. Johnson’s 3-pointer pushed the U.S. edge to 88-84 with 2:46 left, and Thomas sealed it in the final moments.

“We stuck to the game plan and we got a win,” Thomas said.

USA Basketball is using a roster composed primarily of G League players for qualifying, then added Thomas a few days before training camp began earlier this month in Houston. The U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA and is coming off the Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games, but still needs to qualify all over again for the World Cup — which is one of the paths teams can use toward qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The U.S. concludes its trip to Mexico by playing the host nation in another qualifying game on Monday night. The two games in Mexico are the first of six first-round games for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying. The Americans are also scheduled to play Puerto Rico on Feb. 24, Mexico on Feb. 27, Puerto Rico on July 1 and Cuba again on July 4 in the opening qualifying round.

There are four teams in each of four qualifying groups out of the FIBA Americas region. The top three teams in each group move onto the second round of qualifying, which starts in August and runs through February 2023.

The World Cup runs from Aug. 25-Sept. 10, 2023, with the final in the Philippines and other games taking place in Japan and Indonesia.

UP NEXT

USA: Faces Mexico on Monday.

Cuba: Faces Puerto Rico on Monday.

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Patrice Motsepe speaks during a news confe...
Associated Press

Guinea removed as host of 2025 African Cup in latest switch

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The African soccer confederation has removed Guinea as host of the 2025 African Cup of Nations because of inadequate infrastructure, the latest in a series of switches and delays for the continental championship over the last 10 years. The decision was announced late Friday night and after Confederation of […]
1 day ago
Gold medalists the United States hold their trophy as they celebrate on the podium after defeating ...
Associated Press

US women win fourth straight gold at World Cup, top China

SYDNEY (AP) — The names on the U.S. team have changed, the Americans’ dominance has not. A’ja Wilson scored 19 points, Kelsey Plum added 17 and the United States beat China 83-61 on Saturday to win its fourth consecutive gold medal at the women’s basketball World Cup. “It feels great,” said Wilson, who was selected […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Brumfield TD run sparks UNLV over New Mexico 31-20

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Doug Brumfield threw for 233 yards and ran for a second-half touchdown as UNLV scored 24 unanswered points and beat New Mexico 31-20 on Friday night. Brumfield rolled to his left before diving over a defender and into the end zone from six yards out to tie the game 17-17 midway […]
1 day ago
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) stiff-arms Washington linebacker Carson Bruener durin...
Associated Press

Thompson-Robinson leads UCLA past No. 15 Washington, 40-32

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Dorian Thompson-Robinson had read and heard the comments about UCLA’s unbeaten start not meaning much due to the quality of opponents it played. On Friday night, Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins made sure to make a statement with their first victory over a top-15 team since 2014. Thompson-Robinson passed for 315 yards […]
1 day ago
Fans watch as New York Yankees' Aaron Judge comes to bat during the third inning of the team's base...
Associated Press

Yankees star Judge tries again for AL-record 62nd home run

A look at Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees as he approaches major home run milestones: Season HR Total: 61 Friday’s Game: Went 1 for 2 with two walks in a 2-1 loss to Baltimore. Judge also is bidding for the first Triple Crown since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012. Judge leads the AL […]
1 day ago
San Francisco Giants' Evan Longoria (10) celebrates with Mike Yastrzemski (5) after hitting a two-r...
Associated Press

Longoria 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, Giants win 10 of 11, beat Dbacks

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Evan Longoria homered twice and drove in five runs as the San Francisco Giants beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 10-4 Friday night for their 10th win in 11 games. Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Wynns also went deep as San Francisco (79-78) moved above .500 for the first time since Aug. 17. The […]
1 day ago
Thomas’ late 3 helps US top Cuba 95-90 in Cup qualifying