The United States lost to Australia in an Olympics exhibition game 91-83 on Monday night in Las Vegas. Here are five observations from what went down...
Yes, technically the exhibition games in Las Vegas do not count and, yes, technically the United States has been together practicing for less than a week. But after losing to Nigeria on Saturday in stunning fashion, and then losing again to Australia on Monday, it is already clear the United States will have their work cut out for them if they are to take home a fourth straight Olympic gold medal this summer.
Now, it was less surprising that Australia beat them. Nothing against Nigeria, but Australia has an impressive array of quality NBA players like Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle and Aron Baynes. All of them played well, except for Baynes who left early with an injury.
Ingles got hot early and ended up with 17 points. Mills was their closer and finished with 22 points.
The U.S. played better than they did against Nigeria, yet they lost by more. They made some progress, but clearly are not off to an ideal start as they look ahead to Tokyo.
United States head coach Gregg Popovich made some adjustments after their historic loss to Nigeria by shaking up the starting lineup. He pulled out Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo and replaced them with Jerami Grant and Draymond Green. Beal remained in there alongside Lillard.
The move was clearly with defense in mind, as Grant is a stellar wing defender and Green is one of the best defensive players in the world. Though Adebayo is also very good on that end, Green is far more accomplished and brings unique versatility.
Though Ingles came out hot with 11 quick points on three threes, the U.S. showed improvement defensively. There was greater urgency, particularly on the three-point line where they held Australia to 10-for-24 after allowing Nigeria to make 21 threes.
No one on the United States looked particularly sharp on Saturday night in their loss to Nigeria. Given the talent the USA has, it seemed inevitable some collection of their superstars would break out in this game. Damian Lillard was the first, as he knocked down his first three shots from long range to score 11 points in his first seven minutes. By halftime, he had 16 points on 4-for-6 shooting from three.
Lillard faced up defenders and casually dropped in stepback threes over them. He caught fire and whenever that happens for a player on Team USA, there's something extra impressive about it. Here you have a player on what is essentially an All-Star team. They are loaded with scorers. Yet, he rose to the top and separated himself from the rest. Lillard had 22 points (6-11 3PT) in the game.
Beal was better
Like most of his teammates, Bradley Beal looked a little off in the opener against Nigeria. It was probably a result of him not having played organized basketball for over a month, since the Wizards were bounced from the playoffs. But right away he looked more comfortable and more aggressive in this game.
Beal scored his first two baskets on catch-and-gos, showing decisiveness and confidence as he attacked the rim. That approach also led to free throws, as Beal scored 12 points in the game, third-most on Team USA, and shot 4-for-4 at the line. Beal has a chance to be one of the best scorers on the team, even though they are loaded with offensive talent. He showed that against Australia.
Thybulle is so good
Australia is a very good team with loads of NBA talent and a lot of those players played well. Matisse Thybulle was among the standouts with his trademark tough defense, which shows up even on this stage against the USA which has some of the best scorers not only the world but all-time if you consider Lillard and also Kevin Durant (17 points). He had a really nice block on Durant midway through the fourth quarter.
But it wasn't just Thybulle's defense, it was the potential he showed on offense. He had 12 points, three assists, three steals and two blocks. He went 2-for-3 from three and he made some nice, heads-up plays off the dribble to create for others. Thybulle is already an elite defender with upside to become an excellent two-way player. If he can ever become a consistent scorer in the NBA, he will be a star.