The United States lost to Nigeria 90-87 on Saturday night in their first exhibition game ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Here are five observations from what went down...
Nine years ago, at the 2012 London Olympics, the United States men's basketball team beat Nigeria by 83 points. On Saturday night, in the first exhibition game ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. lost by three points in what was a historic win for the country of Nigeria and a cold reminder to the United States squad that nothing is guaranteed.
Nigeria putting up a good fight was no fluke, as they have come a long way as a basketball program since London. They have an NBA head coach in Mike Brown plus a host of NBA players like Precious Achiuwa (Heat), Chimezie Metu (Kings), Josh Okogie (T'Wolves) and KZ Okpala (Heat).
Where Nigeria hurt the United States most was at the 3-point line. They made a ridiculous 20 threes in a 40-minute game. That's not easy to do, but they just couldn't miss.
Unfortunately, stats weren't available online for this game, but Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard carried a lot of the offensive load. Durant, though, shot poorly and Tatum missed a key layup in the closing minutes. No one was particularly sharp for the U.S.
Team USA is one of the most talented and dominant teams in all of sports, regardless of the sport, and when they revealed their starting lineup ahead of Saturday's game, Beal was in there. That's quite a distinction for the Wizards guard, who was in the starting five alongside Lillard, Durant, Tatum and Bam Adebayo.
Beal was essentially in there over Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine, who served as the backup shooting guard. It's worth noting Devin Booker wasn't there, as he's playing for the Suns in the NBA Finals. And during a timeout interview, assistant coach Steve Kerr made sure to note this isn't a permanent starting lineup by any means. But Beal simply starting for a team this good tells you everything you need to know about how good he is and how much head coach Gregg Popovich respects his abilities.
Beal was rusty
Beal said going into the exhibition schedule that he wanted to be a defensive stopper for Team USA, knowing they already have plenty of offensive firepower. He backed that up in the first game with solid defense on the wing and in the midrange. He was playing a bit more physical than he usually does with the Wizards, as the international rules allow more contact. Beal stole the ball in the first half and it led to a Tatum transition three. He also contested a shot late in the fourth quarter that turned into a steal when he dove on the floor to snag the loose ball. Beal, though, was also on the floor for a lot of Nigeria's threes.
On offense, Beal looked like a guy who last played in an organized game over a month ago. His first 3-point attempt clanged off the right side of the backboard. He got trapped off the dribble a few times and wasn't as sharp finishing around the rim as we are used to seeing. And speaking of the extra contact, that will require an adjustment for him and anyone else who is used to driving into traffic. He took a hard fall at the end of the first half and at first looked like he had tweaked his left ankle.
If there was one observation from Beal's night, it would be how much he played. Yes, they were down a few guards due to the NBA Finals, but Beal is clearly going to be a big part of the rotation. He played a lot of minutes. That said, Popovich went away from Beal down the stretch to play Lillard and LaVine at guard instead.
Achiuwa vs. Durant
The best play from this game was a block by Achiuwa on Durant. Durant tried to put him on a poster, but the Heat big man who just finished his rookie season got higher in the air and delivered a big-time rejection. It was the one viral moment from the game.
Durant shot just 3-for-13 but did make two clutch threes late in the fourth. He also had a tough fadeaway over two defenders in the first half. Once he gets his rhythm back, expect to see much better shooting lines from him.
Beal and Tatum's kids
Beal playing with Tatum on Team USA is a great story, as the two grew up together in St. Louis, went to the same high school and remain very good friends. At halftime, the NBC Sports Network broadcast showed Beal and Tatum's sons playing together. They both have a son named Deuce, while Beal also has a second son named Braylon.
That was a great moment. But Tatum isn't the only member of Team USA with a connection to Beal. There is also Darius Garland, the young Cavaliers guard, who was called up for this game from the USA Select team. Garland played for Brad Beal Elite, Beal's AAU team. Beal and Garland shared the floor briefly in the win.