Team USA is still be the favorite to capture the gold medal in Tokyo, but there are plenty of questions after Saturday’s 90-87 loss to Nigeria in exhibition play, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Coached by Mike Brown and sporting seven current NBA players on its roster, Nigeria led throughout the fourth quarter and held off American rallies with a combination of physical defense and three-point shooting, hitting 20 of 42 from beyond the arc.
“That’s a talented group of players. It’s not a bunch of people off the street playing basketball,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “Every year, teams are better and better, and every year, one or two or three more NBA players are on their teams, so they’re a quality team. Mike’s done a great job with them, and they’re as athletic as anybody. They’re very physical, and they’ve been practicing for three weeks.”
Team USA is loaded with All-Stars, but just began practicing together this week in Las Vegas. A lack of continuity could be a concern, as it was with the last major international tournament, the 2019 FIBA World Cup, where the Americans lost to France and Serbia and wound up finishing seventh.
“None of us have ever played with each other, we’re just trying to figure it out,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “We don’t have three to four weeks. This is good for us, we’ll learn a lot from the film and we’ll regroup.”
There’s more Olympics-related news this morning:
- Brown recognizes the significance of Saturday’s win, which was the first ever for an African team against the United States, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. The Nigerians, who are aiming for the first Olympic basketball medal in African history, lost to the Americans by 83 points in the 2012 Olympics and by 44 in a 2016 exhibition game. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean much in the standings as far as where we’re trying to get to,” Brown said. “But it’s a good win for us. I don’t think any African team has been able to beat USA Basketball in an exhibition game or a real game. … We’re trying to get a little bit of momentum for Nigeria and for the continent of Africa.”
- NBA interest has “spiked” in Nigeria’s Caleb Agada, who came off the bench to score 17 points in the upset, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic. Agada recently had a workout with the Jazz and will play for the Nuggets‘ team in next month’s Summer League.
- Former NBA forward Luis Scola scored 25 points for Argentina in a loss to Australia Saturday night. At age 41, Scola indicated he may keep playing once the Olympics are over. “I don’t even know if I’m going to retire after the tournament,” he said (Twitter link from Reynolds).