SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Isaiah Thomas knocked down three 3-point rapids, showing his shot is still there.
Removing 12 months of rust was not so easy.
Thomas scored 19 points in his first competitive game in over a year, helping the United States to a 93-77 victory over the Bahamas on Friday in a FIBA AmeriCup qualifier.
“My first time playing in a little over a year, so I was a little rusty, but it was amazing to be there competing against some really good players and also to represent my country,” said Thomas said.
Thomas, 32, is a two-time NBA All-Star who scored 28.9 points per game for the Boston Celtics in the 2016-17 season. But he suffered a hip injury at the end of this season and has never regained that form on limited occasions.
He decided to play for the Americans in part as a showcase in hopes of returning to the NBA, where he most recently played for Washington last February.
Thomas – like many NBA players – struggled to adjust to the ball and the way the international game is refereed. But he was happy with his movement and conditioning and said he would clean up his mistakes on Saturday.
“The world knows I’ve got what it takes. So it’s just about showing that I’m healthy,” Thomas said. “My skills didn’t go anywhere, it was just about becoming one hundred percent healthy, which I am right now.
The 5-foot-9 guard gave the Americans an 11-2 lead with his three straight three runs. But he also committed six turnovers that helped keep the Bahamas in the game much longer than expected, with a particularly tough streak in the second quarter when he had back-to-back turnovers and then saw his shot blocked.
US coach Joe Prunty thought Thomas played well.
“Yes, definitive revenue,” Prunty said. “There were some defensive things, assignments where he had to fight. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. It’s part of our defense, though, in terms of communication. It’s not always just about one guy. . “
“But overall I was very happy with the way he moved on the ground. He was able to get us into our attack for the most part, execute our attack and obviously do some shots. “
James Nunnally also scored 19 points for the Americans, they improved to 5-0 in the qualifying game and can stay perfect through three windows as they beat Mexico on Saturday.
The United States have already secured a spot in the AmeriCup tournament which will be played in 2022, but have brought a solid roster to San Juan that includes eight players who have regular season NBA experience. Along with Thomas, the other notable name was the seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
Still, the United States only led by 10 in the fourth quarter after beating the Bahamas by 40 in the November window. The lead was still only 83-72 before Thomas made a layup and 3 points to push him to 88-72, and the Americans eventually retreated from there.
Qualifying matches were added as a way to give national teams the chance to play home games, but all four of Group D teams are playing this weekend in San Juan in a bubble setup due to the coronavirus.
Brandon Bass finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the United States. Another former NBA player, Treveon Graham, left the game with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter.
Travis Munnings scored 22 points for the Bahamas (1-4).
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