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Men’s national team ends exhibition schedule with win over Spain

In an effort to find a hot streak before leaving for Tokyo, the USA men’s national team came from behind to beat Spain in the last tune-up game before this year’s Olympics.

Team USA beat Spain, 83-76, Sunday, July 18 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

“Our immediate goal has been to get better,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “So I think with every practice -- we just had our sixth practice the other day -- and after these exhibition games, that’s what we look for.”

Spain won the FIBA World Cup in 2019 and will be entering this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo as the No. 1-ranked team in the world.

“[Head coach Sergio Scariolo] is a good friend,” Popovich said. “And I just have to say he has got them executing as well as they ever have even though a couple of guys are a little bit older. They really understand how to play basketball, it’s a beautiful game when you watch them play.”

With exhibition games over now, official Olympic games for Team USA, Sunday, July 25 against France.

“We’ve been preparing for France for two years,” Popovich said. “You don’t just start to prepare for them the day before. I think about it every day.”

It was another slow start for Team USA as the team only had 18 points with about six minutes left in the first half.

After starting the game 1-for-12 from three-point range, forwards Keldon Johnson, Kevin Durant and guard Damian Lillard made three consecutive threes to get Team USA back into the game.

Heading into halftime, Spain held a slim 38-36 lead.

“We know what we’re capable of,” Johnson said. “We know that we just have to keep shooting -- we were getting good shots -- we just have to keep shooting [...] The offense will take care of itself.” The offense definitely took care of itself as Team USA got hot before the halftime break and it continued into the third quarter.

“Our pace was better offensively,” Popovich said. “I thought we got in a little bit of mud, [Spain’s] physicality kind of set us back on our heels in the second quarter. But the pace improved in the third quarter, we were able to get the ball up the court a little quicker, shared it better and thusly, ended up with more open shots.”

It was a dominant 21-12 frame for the US, turning it’s fortunes and heading into the last 10 minutes of the game up seven.

During the third quarter, Team USA captured its first lead since leading 9-7 in the first quarter.

By the end of the game, the lead was up to as many as 16 points.

Lillard led all scorers with 19 points with four made threes while Johnson was next in line with 15 points off-the-bench.

“Keldon Johnson just played a really solid basketball game,” Pop said. “He shot if he was open, he made cuts to the bucket and when he did go to the bucket he was very physical and he was solid in the halfcourt defense. He had a very, very good night.”

Johnson scored his 15 on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting from the field.

“[I was] just being active,” he said. “I’m out here to be the energy guy and bring life to the team whenever we need it. Third quarter I came in and we needed a spark. Not just because I got a couple of buckets [but] on the defensive end, just talking, everything.”

Johnson was recently elevated to the men’s senior national team from the select team in the aftermath of guard Bradley Beal and forward Kevin Love leaving camp for various reasons.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” Johnson said. “I mean I know my role with the team. I feel like my teammates have my back, my coaches have my back so I’m comfortable going into Tokyo and doing whatever they need me to do for us to win games.”

More than the offense, the defense leveled up for Team USA in the second half as well as it held Spain to 49 points over the last 26-plus minutes of the game.

“I thought the defense was pretty solid,” Popovich said. “We started out slow and couldn’t make a shot but they didn’t let up defensively. They were focused in that regard which is going to be important as we move on.”

As it has been all camp long, Popovich spoke on leaving for Tokyo without three members of his Team USA roster intact.

“I just know when we started out, we needed conditioning,” Pop said. “We’re getting better with each passing day in that regard [...] The three guys that are going to be joining us, you’d think they’re going to be in really good shape so that’s a plus.”

Guards Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker along with forward Khris Middleton are away from the team playing in this year’s NBA Finals.

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