CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kyle Kuzma was determined to make sure Team USA snapped its two-game losing streak in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Why? To have some extra spending money.
“Facts,” Kuzma said with a smile, when asked if what he said on the court postgame — that the $25,000 bonus going to each member of the winning team was part of his motivation — was true.
“I think it was the second timeout, and I broke the huddle by saying, ‘1-2-3-BONUS.’ So there you go.”
Kuzma certainly did his part, scoring 14 of his game-high 35 points in the first quarter to stake Team USA to a 40-30 lead that it would never relinquish. While Team World managed to nearly get all the way back in front on multiple occasions — pulling within two points in the second quarter and within one midway late in the third — it never managed to pull ahead.
“I played last year and was lackadaisical,” Kuzma said, “so I didn’t want to do that again.
“There was a lot of great players out there, All-Stars, we’re all young rising stars in this league. Obviously, it’s an exhibition, but it’s always better to have bragging rights whenever you can.”
After Team USA closed the third quarter with a quick run to stretch the lead to six, it opened the fourth quarter with an 11-4 run to push the lead back out to double figures, then cruised to the win from there.
The only question left at that point was who would win the game’s MVP award — with Kuzma (10 points) and Trae Young (12 points and three assists) going shot for shot in the fourth quarter to try and wrest it away from each other.
In the end, though, the fans voted for Kuzma over Young and Jayson Tatum (30 points) — leading to cheers of “Kuz!” from the fans inside Spectrum Center after the buzzer sounded when his name was announced to the crowd.
“[Kuzma] was doing what he’s really good at, and that’s shooting the ball and scoring the ball,” said Young, who finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. “I mean, that’s what he does, so he definitely showed out tonight, and put on a show.
“Without his 35, we probably lose, so I’m happy for [Kuzma].”
Ben Simmons led Team World with 28 points and six assists.