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Isaiah Thomas scores 19 points in return to court as U.S. beats Bahamas


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Isaiah Thomas knocked down three quick 3-pointers, showing that his shot is still there.

Knocking off 12 months of rust wasn’t quite as easy.

Thomas scored 19 points in his first competitive game in more than a year, helping the U.S. to a 93-77 victory over the Bahamas on Friday in a FIBA AmeriCup qualifying game.

“My first time playing in a little over a year, so I was a little rusty, but it felt amazing to be out there competing against really good players and also representing my country,” Thomas said.

The 32-year-old Thomas 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 late in that season and has never regained that form in limited opportunities.

He decided to play for the Americans partly as a showcase in hopes of earning his way back into the NBA, where he most recently played for Washington last February.

Thomas — like many NBA players — had some trouble adjusting to the ball and the way the international game is officiated. But he was pleased with his movement and conditioning and said he’ll clean up his mistakes Saturday.

“The world knows I’ve got what it takes. So, it’s just about showing that I’m healthy,” Thomas said. “My skill didn’t go anywhere, it was just about getting a hundred percent healthy, which I am right now.”

The 5-foot-9 guard got the Americans off to an 11-2 lead with his three straight 3-pointers. But he also committed six turnovers that helped keep the Bahamas in the game far longer than expected, with one particularly rough stretch in the second quarter when he had back-to-back turnovers and then had his shot blocked.

U.S. coach Joe Prunty thought Thomas played well.

“Yes, definite turnovers,” Prunty said. “There were certain things defensively, assignments where he had to fight through things. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. That’s part of our defense, though, in terms of communication. It’s not always just on one guy.”

“But overall I was very pleased with how he moved on the floor. Was able to get us in our offense for the most part, execute our offense and obviously make some shots.”

James Nunnally also scored 19 points for the Americans, They improved to 5-0 in qualifying play and can remain perfect through three windows by beating Mexico on Saturday.

The U.S. has already clinched a berth in the AmeriCup tournament to be played in 2022 but brought a strong roster to San Juan that features eight players who have NBA regular-season experience. Along with Thomas, the other noteworthy name was seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

Still, the U.S. led by only 10 in the fourth quarter after beating the Bahamas by 40 in the November window. The lead was still just 83-72 before Thomas made a layup and 3-pointer to push it to 88-72, and the Americans finally coasted from there.

The qualifying games were added as a way to give national teams the opportunity to play home games, but all four teams in Group D are playing this weekend in San Juan in a bubble setup because of the coronavirus.

Brandon Bass finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the U.S. 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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