The New Zealand Tall Blacks didn’t make the start to the FIBA World Cup they were hoping for in Nanjing falling to a Brazilian team 102-94 led by Leandro Barbosa and featuring NBL Next Stars signing Didi Louzada.
It’s an impressive looking Brazilian team featuring not only Barbosa and Louzada, but also 715-game NBA veteran forward Anderson Varejao along with Chicago Bull Cristiano Felicio the Memphis Grizzlies’ Bruno Caboclo.
So the task was always in front of the Tall Blacks to make a winning start to their World Cup campaign and that’s how it panned out, but it really was only the third quarter on which Brazil stamped their authority.
It was a tight opening half with Brazil leading by one at quarter-time and then scores were locked at 50-apiece at the main break. But Brazil put their foot down in the third quarter with 28 points to 12 and that was enough to set up the eventual eight-point victory.
Despite the loss, there was plenty for New Zealand to like as a team and from individuals with Corey Webster continuing his form from playing Canada last week in Sydney with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Isaac Fotu battled hard inside too with 17 points and five rebounds while Shea Ili returned for the Tall Blacks and delivered 16 points and six assists.
Tai Webster again had too many turnovers with a game-high six but still had some good moments for New Zealand with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists while Rob Loe contributed 11 points and nine boards.
Ethan Rusbatch, a much talked about surprise too many for not having an NBL contract, produced six points while Tom Abercrombie put up five points and seven rebounds in his 100th game representing New Zealand.
Tohi Smith-Milner added four points and Alex Pledger four points and two rebounds in less than six minutes of court time for the seven-footer.
New Zealand coach Paul Henare liked a lot of what the Tall Blacks delivered but just needs a couple of areas tidied up if they are bounce back on Tuesday against Montenegro.
“I thought it was a hard fought game and our guys gave it everything they had. We had an unfortunate third quarter where Brazil got going, they made some shots and we had a few breakdowns,” Henare said.
“Our offence dried up a bit too but for the rest of the game I was extremely proud of our guys. We have to pick ourselves up now and move on, and get ready for the next one.
“I think our pace was where we wanted it to be and the effort from the guys was there across the board. We had plenty of touches, we had plenty of shots and we got to the foul line 29 times so there was some really positive things there.
“There are just other things to tidy up with the 15 turnovers and we need to take better care of the ball. Brazil also came in with offensive rebounds and they won the possession game, and when you do that against quality opposition it’s going to be tough to beat them.”
It was a Brazilian performance that should revive hopes that they can be a medal contender with former NBA veteran Leandro Barbosa the star with 22 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Plenty of eyes were on Didi Louzada who has signed with the Sydney Kings for the upcoming NBL season as part of the Next Stars program with an eye to the 2020 NBA Draft. He started for Brazil and looked good with nine points, four rebounds and four steals.
Rafa Luz added 15 points and six assists for the Brazilians, Alex Garcia 14 points and four rebounds, Marquinhos Sousa 12 points, and Bruno Caboclo nine points and three boards. Cristiano Felicio finished with seven points and 13 rebounds.
New Zealand is next up on Tuesday taking on Montenegro while Brazil will be facing Greece in a tantalising Group F match up.
FIBA WORLD CUP – GROUP PHASE
NEW ZEALAND 94 (Corey Webster 19, Isaac Fotu 17, Shea Ili 16)
BRAZIL 102 (Leandro Barbosa 22, Rafa Luz 125, Alex Garcia 14)