WASHINGTON — Joe Johnson scored 18 points and the United States overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to beat Puerto Rico 93-76 on Thursday night in World Cup qualifying.
The Americans (2-1) only need to avoid finishing last in their four-team group to advance to the next round of qualifying, and they look eminently capable of clearing that bar despite the absence of NBA players. The 40-year-old Johnson — a seven-time All-Star who briefly returned to the NBA and played in one game for the Boston Celtics in December — is the only big name on the current US roster. Most of the players came from the G League.
The Puerto Ricans (1-2), who seemed to have most of the small crowd on their side, led 32-22 in the second quarter after a layup by Ismael Romero, but the US fought its way back. The Americans trailed 44-42 at halftime, then dominated the third quarter.
Jared Harper’s 3-pointer gave the US a 71-58 lead, and then a steal and dunk by Jordan Bell pushed the lead to 15.
The Americans will face Mexico on Sunday. The US lost to Mexico 97-88 in November.
The other US victory was 95-90 over Cuba. This was a much more emphatic win. Matt Ryan of the Grand Rapids Gold scored 15 points, and Justin Wright-Foreman of the Birmingham Squadron added 13.
Javier Mojica led Puerto Rico with 18.
The World Cup takes place next year from Aug. 25-Sept. 10 in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines. Teams can qualify directly from the World Cup for the 2024 Olympics.