Team USA has had its ups and downs at the Tokyo Olympics with a loss to France followed by a win against Iran. Although the men’s basketball team has the most talent on the planet, the crew hadn’t established themselves as a cohesive unit compared to opposing countries before arriving in Tokyo, especially after they struggled to win in exhibition games. Now that the first two official group play games of the men’s basketball team have happened, let’s take a look at what’s going on.
Tough Loss vs France
France is no team to sleep on. France possesses several current and former NBA players:
Rudy Gobert (currently Utah Jazz), Nicolas Batum (formerly of Portland Trail Blazers, recently of Los Angeles Clippers), Evan Fournier (currently Boston Celtics), Guerschon Yabusele (Celtics, 2017-2019), Frank Ntilikina (currently New York Knick), Nando de Colo (Spurs, 2012-2014), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (Brooklyn Nets, currently), Vincent Poirier Celtics, 2019-2020/Philadelphia76ers, 2020-2021).
In their 2020 Tokyo Olympics debut, Team USA suffered an astonishing lost to France. They looked all out of sorts in their debut, shooting only 36.2% from the field and 31.3% from three. For those who don’t know, the NBA 3-point line is 22 feet in the corners and 23.75 feet above the arc, while the FIBA 3-point line is 21.65 feet in the corners and 22.15 feet above the arc. This doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but trust me it is. They were also out-rebounded 42-36 and committed 25 team fouls. With a little over three minutes left, France went on an 11-0 run and finished off the game with a 16-2 run.
Because of the athleticism that Team USA possesses, France utilized a switch-heavy defense, creating many mismatches for Team USA that they would simply not exploit, thus settling for tough shot attempts. Coach Gregg Popovich had not established a solid rotation of players and a fluid offense to unleash his plethora of talented stars. Portland hero Damian Lillard, struggled mightily shooting with 11 points on 3-of-10 from the field and 3-of-9 from three with four turnovers. Another star, Kevin Durant, scored 10 points, shooting only 4-of-12 from the field and 1-of-6 from three. Pop has not been applauded by players for his Spurs-style offense that he has employed. De Colo probably helped France with stating all of the “Spurs-type plays” that Pop has been running with his familiarity with the franchise from his playing time there. After the disappointing loss to France, the United States was blessed with an opportunity against Iran to display its dominance.
Strong Showing vs Iran
No disrespect to Iran, but they do not possess the quality of players to compete with Team USA. After an upsetting loss to France, my prediction was that Team USA would take advantage of this opportunity to demolish Iran and it did. Seeking to make a statement, they obtained a whopping 120-66 victory. They looked dedicated to displaying dominance on both ends of the floor. When encountering this type of matchup, it leaves room to practice rotations and offensive schemes in hopes of amassing unassailable chemistry against future top-tier opponents.
Chemistry in Full-Effect
Lillard connected on six threes in the first half and finishing with a total of seven, showing his typical ‘Dame-time’ self. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting overall and 7-of-13 from beyond the arc. There were other solid contributions from Devin Booker (16 points), Jayson Tatum (14 points), Zach LaVine (13 points, 8 assists), and Durant and Khris Middleton with 10 points a piece. The offense looked much more fluid with an all-around balance offensively with the team connecting on all cylinders. Team USA shot 55.3% from the field, 48.7% from three, and 94.4% from the stripe. They held Iran to 37.3% from the field and 34.6% from three. One of the biggest differences in both games was the assist total. Against France, the USA had 23 assists, but against Iran they had a whopping 34 assists. That is tremendous ball-movement and the best play of the night happened with the start from Draymond Green, which was heavily criticized but led to a wide open three. The definition of unselfish basketball with a plethora of talent is the key to success for Team USA.
It is definitely beneficial for USA to have a bounce-back victory. Being the favorites to win it all, securing a blow-out victory against Iran not only develops confidence but a vision of what this team is comprised of at its best. With Coach Popovich establishing solid rotations and a potent offensive structure, this team can easily roll right back to obtaining that gold medal. Right now, it looks like Lillard is pitched as the go-to guy and resonates with Blazers’ fans familiarity, despite the trade rumors. Up next, Team USA faces Czech Republic, who defeated Canada 103-101 in an overtime win for the qualifiers, but defeated Iran only 84-78 and lost by 20 to France 97-77. This should be another cakewalk for USA as they should move to 2-1. I’d loved to hear your thoughts on Team USA and Lillard’s performance thus far.
Tune in to USA vs Czech Republic on Saturday, July 31 at 5:00am PST on NBCOlympics.com and Peacock.