The United States men’s basketball team has lost just four exhibition games since 1992, and half of those losses just happened in a span of 48 hours. After being upset by Nigeria in their first Olympic exhibition Saturday night, Team USA fell to Australia on Monday, 91-83, in Las Vegas.
U.S. is now 54-4 in exhibition games since 1992 when NBA players began competing.
Damian Lillard led the way for the U.S. with 22 points and four rebounds, but he did half that damage in the first quater. Kevin Durant, who was 6 of 13 from the field but was cold most of the game, chipped in with 17 points while also adding four boards.
With Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle, Aron Baynes, Dante Exum and Matthew Dellavedova, the Australians have more NBA talent than the Nigerian squad. Still, this is another huge upset for the Americans.
Mills was huge for Australia, particularly late, scoring 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter as the U.S. just couldn’t get enough stops to back up their own scoring down the stretch.
“Defense. All defense,” Mills said after the game when asked what he attributed the Australians’ victory to. “We understand for us to be really competitive and achieve out goals, we have to hang our hat on defense. “Especially [against] a team like the U.S. [that can get] out in transition and [make] easy layups and dunks, for us to take away that was pretty impressive for our second game.”
Team USA struggled in both exhibition losses to execute in crunch time. To some degree, this is to be expected given that this team hasn’t had much time to play together. But they have less than two weeks until their first Olympic game, and getting the right shots at the right time is something the Americans are going to have to focus on as it looks increasingly likely that tight games will be in their future.
Also, the defense — which was much more active and attentive in the first half before, in U.S coach Gregg Popovich’s estimation, conditioning issues set in — has to be more consistent.
“In the second half, we tired out,” Popovich said after the loss. “And when that happens, you get hit mentally a little bit, too. We didn’t sustain the boards the same way, the defense wasn’t the same, our pace wasn’t the same, so we got some guys that have to get their legs and rhythm back, but in general, we need more conditioning, which is totally understandable.”
“… In the first half, we defended the way we wanted to defend, the way we did not defend against Nigeria,” Popovich added. “We were more physical, we sustained the defense longer, we rebounded better, we moved the ball better at the offensive end and had more pace.”
Dating back to the 2019 World Cup, the U.S. has now lost four of its last five games. That is unbelievable given the talent disparity, no matter what roster the U.S. puts out, and speaks to the power of cohesion and playing with nothing to lose for these underdog countries.
Team USA will play one final tune-up on Tuesday against Argentina at 6 p.m. ET — stream via fuboTV (Try for free) — before heading to Tokyo for the start of the Olympic Games where the team is paired with France, Iran and the Czech Republic in the preliminary group.
The U.S., winners of the past three Olympic tournaments, will get its 2021 Olympic campaign going on July 25 against France. The last time the U.S. men’s team failed to win gold came in 2004 when it finished third with the bronze, behind Argentina (gold) and Italy (silver).
Courtesy: CBS Sports