Coach Pop decided to field Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Harrison Barnes, Jayson Tatum and Myles Turner as USA's starting lineup to tipoff their 2019 FIBA World Cup campaign. Entering this matchup as the surefire favorites, Kemba and his men obliterated the Czech via a convincing 88-67 win to start off their title defense.
The Americans received a wake up call when their 78-game winning streak was snapped by the Australians recently on the back of some brilliant shooting by Patty Mills. However, they continued their winning run in major tournaments – one that dates back to 2006 – by beating Czech Republic and the streak now stands at 54 games.
Let's take a quick look at their dominant first win of the 2019 FIBA World Cup and draw out some key arguments.
#1 Donovan Mitchell is emerging as the unofficial leader of this team
USA's coaching staff had quickly realized the prominence of Mitchell on the roster and elevated him into a bigger role than anyone expected.
“When you tap somebody that has leadership ability, it’s better to start it sooner,” Popovich told ESPN earlier this week. “The quicker you make them feel responsible that they can do that, the better. Then if that person grabs onto it then you know you chose the right guy.”
The 22-year-old played the most minutes (25) of any American player in the first game and ended with a team-high scoring total. Two of his total tally of 16 points came through a highlight speed dribble-and-dunk sequence that brought the crowd to its feet.
There appears no doubt that he'll be a key factor in the coming days when his team faces more lethal threats as the tournament progresses. Despite Kemba being the captain of this squad, Donovan's energy, athleticism, and motivation on the court makes his intangible leadership stand out.