For the first time in history, Team USA was defeated by the Nigerian national team in the team’s first exhibition game of this Olympic run.
Team USA lost 90-87 to the Nigerian national team Saturday, July 10 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
“In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “That loss means nothing if we don’t learn from it but it can be the most important thing of this tournament for us to learn lessons from this and see what we did.”
Coming into the game, Team USA was a 28.5-point favorite over Nigeria.
It’s only the third time in history that a US men’s national team lost an exhibition game (54-3).
It also marked the first win for Nigeria over Team USA in three tries.
“I think we just use this to bring us together,” forward Jayson Tatum said. “Tough times bring guys and teams and people together. It’s not going to be easy and we knew that coming in. This is just something to build off of.”
Team USA gets right back to action Monday, July 12 against Australia.
From the start, Nigeria proved to be the much scrappier team beating Team USA to most spots on the floor.
“I thought the Nigerian team played very physically,” Popovich said. “And knocked down a lot of threes, give them credit.”
Tatum also weighed in after Team USA’s second exhibition loss in the last two playable years.
“It just goes to show we have to play better,” he said. “Any given night the team that plays harder, is more physical, anybody can win. It’s something we can learn from.”
Following the game, Pop was open about being surprised his team was only outrebounded by two.
“There were a lot of things that I liked about the game,” Popovich said. “We turned it over half as much as they did, we shot about three times as many free throws -- if I would’ve watched the game and you gave me the stats, I would’ve thought we got outrebounded by 20. But it was six or seven on the offensive end.
“The assists were even, basically, the three-point game was the difference tonight.”
In addition, Nigeria made 20 of its 42 three-point attempts.
“That’s a talented group of players,” Popovich said. “It’s not a bunch of people off the street playing basketball [...] They’re a quality team and [head coach Mike Brown] has done a great job with them.”
While D’Tigers were firing on all cylinders, Team USA was still actively trying to work out the kinks on offense.
At times, the national team resorted to one-on-one situations, forcing isolations especially late in the game.
“If you don’t get the rebound and you don’t get stops and they’re making threes -- they made 20 of them,” Pop said. “People can set their defense and it’s a little tougher for us. We didn’t get anything easy, we didn’t get anything off a rebound [...] When they got into us physically, we reverted back to NBA-iso, one-on-one and that’s not going to get it done.”
Tatum scored 11 points in the first half but was held to four in the second half.
“I don’t know the exact answer,” Tatum said when asked about the team’s offensive style. “It’s only been four days, none of us have ever played with each other so we’re just trying to figure it out. We know we don’t have three or four weeks but I think this was good for us, we’re going to learn a lot from film.”
Three-time Olympian Kevin Durant had a rough start to the game before finishing with a team-high 17 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field.
“We all know how to play basketball,” Tatum said. “Throughout the game, there were certain points where it felt like we were taking turns instead of just moving, passing to one guy and letting him do his thing.”