If the USA Olympic Basketball team thought they were going to sleepwalk their way to a gold medal, the first two exhibition games have been a sobering reminder that the Olympics will be a tough test.
On Saturday, Team USA suffered a shocking defeat to Nigeria, losing 90-87. Monday, USA Basketball lost their second consecutive exhibition game, falling to Australia 91-83 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s the first time Team USA has lost back-to-back exhibition games since the United States began sending professionals to the Olympics in 1993.
Australia takes down Team USA.
They have now lost back-to-back exhibition games for the first time since pros started playing in 1992. pic.twitter.com/qnwixFbHO3
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 13, 2021
It’s the second consecutive loss against Australia in international play and the fourth loss in five games for USA Basketball since 2019.
Team USA better be careful, because legacies are at stake.
Head coach Gregg Popovich saw improvement from his team, but excellence is expected from Team USA. Incremental improvements aren’t going to get the job done.
“I thought we got better tonight,” Popovich said. “After a short time together, there’s a lot of things that have to be covered.”
“In the first half, we defended the way we wanted to defend. … We rebounded better,” Popovich continued. “We moved the ball better at the offensive end and had more pace. In the second half, we tired out.”
Australia is no slouch. The roster boasts Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz, Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs, and Aron Baynes of the Toronto Raptors. One of the concerns that Team USA has always faced is that their opponents generally have been playing together for years, whereas Team USA is a hastily thrown together concoction of the NBA’s best.
“We walked into this game expecting to win,” said Ingles. “No disrespect to them, they’re a hell of a team, obviously the guys they’ve got on their roster and Pop standing up there is always nice to see, but we came in here expecting to win the game and that’s what we did.”
It usually takes a few games for the U.S. Olympic team to get into a rhythm, but a roster ladened with stars will get no breaks here.
Damian Lillard led the way with 22 points, and Kevin Durant helped out with 17, but the lack of size for Team USA was an issue from the tip. Much like in the NBA, the USA roster is built for spacing and shooters. The only big men on the roster are Draymond Green, Kevin Love, and Bam Adebayo. And the Aussies took advantage.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve seen Team USA be tested,” Lillard said. “Maybe not beat two times in a row, but I’ve seen it before. These other teams and these other countries just continue to improve. These players, they get better, they get more confident and they also want to beat us badly. It’s definitely noticeable when you’re on the court.”
The USA roster is missing Khris Middleton, Devin Booker, and Jrue Holiday, all of which are playing in the NBA Finals.
There will be those who see the back-to-back losses as nothing more than a blip on the radar. And they may be correct. The games are meaningless and the only losses that matter would take place in Tokyo, but if Popovich’s postgame spat with a reporter is any inclination, there is at least some reason for concern.
NBA reporter Joe Vardon implied that Team USA should be “dominating” their opponents, and Popovich took exception.
“When you make statements about in the past, just blowing out these other teams … No. 1 you give no respect to the other teams,” Popovich said. “I talked to you last time about the same thing. We’ve had very close games against four or five countries in all these tournaments. So, the good teams do not get blown out.”
“There are certain games it might happen in one of the tournaments, world championships, and Olympics when somebody gets blown out but in general, nobody is blowing anybody out for the good teams,” Popovich continued. “So, when you make a statement like that it’s like you assume that’s what’s going on and that’s incorrect.”
"Can I finish my statement? Are you gonna let me finish my statement or not? So you'll be quiet now while I talk?"
Gregg Popovich and a reporter got into a heated exchange after Team USA's loss to Australia. 😳pic.twitter.com/IwjT0WIWCY
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) July 13, 2021
Team USA continues its exhibition schedule against Argentina at 6:00 p.m. eastern on Tuesday, July 13.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected].