Jeff Van Gundy coached the game of his life on Sunday night, erasing a 20-point deficit to guide a group of G-League stars to gold in their 2017 FIBA AmeriCup title match against Argentina.
.@usabasketball lifts the #AmeriCup2017 trophy! pic.twitter.com/D3PTERMw4Y— FIBA (@FIBA) September 4, 2017
Team USA, led by Jameel Warney, Darrun Hilliard, and Reggie Hearn, rallied to outscore Argentina 48-24 in the game’s final 16:19 to come away with an 81-76 championship victory.
.@Fullcoursemeelz was instrumental in @usabasketball 's comeback during the #AmeriCup2017's finals with 21 points (8/11 FG) & 7 rebounds! pic.twitter.com/svLHcij4Ob— FIBA (@FIBA) September 4, 2017
The win is a stark reminder that Van Gundy — who holds a 430-318 NBA head coaching record with the Knicks and Rockets — still has his touch despite not having coached in a decade.
But there’s another question we need to answer in light of Team USA’s big win:
What the heck is the FIBA AmeriCup anyway?
Even though Team USA won gold in previous Olympic and World competitions, a rule change in the new FIBA qualifications system that takes effect in November required Team USA to compete in the AmeriCup.
America’s team had to win three games in the group phase — against Panama, Uruguay and Dominican Republic — before taking down the Virgin Islands in the semifinals and eventually Argentina in the title game.
Why not send their best players?
Because countries don’t usually do that for the qualifying rounds. The NBA is the best basketball league in the world. Sending Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis to win games against lesser opponents doesn’t just provide unnecessary injury risk, it would be overkill.
So the U.S. sent a G-League-heavy roster to handle its light work. Team USA beat the Virgin Islands by 28, Panama by 21, and the Dominican Republic by 16.
Who was on the team anyway?
Team USA’s roster featured a few ex-NBA players, including Kendall Marshall (Suns), Xavier Munford (Grizzlies), Reggie Williams (Pelicans), Marshall Plumlee (Knicks), and Darrun Hilliard (Pistons). Here is the box score from the win over Argentina, where Warney, a former Stony Brook standout, came off the bench to give the United States 21 points and seven boards.
So what does this win mean?
The victory clinched a spot for the United States in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, where Team USA is expected to send its best players to qualify for a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
So in a way, the G-League’s finest just made the road to gold for Team USA a lot easier for 2019 and 2020.