4 observations: LaVine’s minutes dip, USA suffers setback


LAS VEGAS — In their second, pre-Tokyo Olympics exhibition game, Team USA fell 91-83 to Australia. The result drops them to 0-2 in exhibition play.

Here are four observations:

Setback result

This one had all the makings of a bounceback early on. The U.S. rode a second-quarter surge to lead by nine at the half, and looked much more fluid offensively than in their upset loss to Nigeria.

But the third quarter turned the tide. The Aussies won those 10 minutes 32-18, turning six United States turnovers into 12 points and vaulting ahead by five on a buzzer-beater 3 by Chris Goulding, who broke free for eight points in the period. That momentum continued in the fourth as Australia won the second half 54-37, cutting and slashing their way to 44 points in the paint for the game with spotty resistance.

U.S. coach Gregg Popovich pointed to the team’s conditioning as an area for improvement, though he thought they fared better defensively against Australia than Nigeria, particularly in limiting 3-point attempts.

Dame Time

Much to the merriment of the Michelob Ultra Arena crowd, Damian Lillard sparked the U.S. early. 

Powered by 3-for-3 shooting from behind the 3-point line, Lillard notched 11 of the team’s 27 points in the first quarter as they overcame a slightly sluggish start to finish the first 10 minutes ahead 27-24. He also hit a long-ball in the waning seconds of the second quarter to push the home side ahead by double digits points just before the halftime break.


Lillard finished with 22 points and shot 6-for-11 from 3, but cooled as the game progressed.

Less LaVine

Zach LaVine had a productive Team USA (exhibition) debut on Saturday, posting 10 points, two rebounds and a steal, block and assist apiece in the loss to Nigeria. He shot 4-for-8 from the field and 2-for-6 from 3-point range, closing the contest and often initiating offense with the second unit.

Against Australia, his presence was less felt on the stat sheet. LaVine notched five points (1-for-4 shooting, all 3-point attempts), one rebound, one assist and one steal, logging 13 minutes compared to 22 against Nigeria as head coach Gregg Popovich appeared to toy with the team’s rotation — chiefly by inserting Jerami Grant and Draymond Green into the starting lineup ahead of Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo (Popovich stressed postgame to not read into exhibition game rotations).

LaVine’s activity level on the defensive end was apparent early. He was up in the jersey of his initial assignment most times down the floor, and in one noteworthy sequence early in the second quarter, stymied several Joe Ingles dribble combinations, stripped the Aussie forward and drew an intentional foul that produced two free-throw attempts.

No slouches

Six current NBAers logged minutes for Australia, including Joe Ingles (17 points) and Matisse Thybulle (12 points, three steals, two blocks). Thybulle was uncannily disruptive, deflecting a pass in the game’s final minute that clinched victory. And after Aron Baynes left with an apparent knee injury early in the first quarter, a host of frontcourt contributors — notably, Nick Kay and Duop Reath — stepped up.

“These teams are experienced. They’ve spent a lot of time together. And we are still working at becoming a team,” Lillard said. “Still getting our legs under us, getting in shape. We’re not just gonna come out here and roll out the ball and beat these teams. We gotta play the right way.”

Patty Mills was the Aussies’ biggest hero. The Spurs guard leveraged his typical craft into 22 points and four assists, with 10 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. He beat every coverage and defender in front of him.

Next up for Team USA: Argentina on Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT.

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