In its first exhibition game before the Olympics, Team USA suffered a stunning defeat to Nigeria in a 90-87 loss Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Led by Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, Nigeria made 20 of 42 3-pointers, racked up 21 assists and outrebounded the U.S. 46-34. On paper, Team USA appeared to have the superior team and Nigeria wouldn’t be able to compete. The expectation was to not only win but win big. Team USA coach Gregg Popovich explained why it’s foolish to believe Team USA is heads and shoulders above the competition.
“That’s a talented group of players,” said Popovich talking about Nigeria. “That’s not a bunch of people off the street playing basketball, so you need to understand that. Every year teams are better and better. And every year one or two or three more NBA players are on their teams so they’re a quality team. Mike’s done a great job with them and they’re as athletic as anybody, very physical and they’ve been practicing for three weeks.”
“There are a lot of things that I liked about the game,” said Popovich. “We turned it over half as much as they did. We shot about three times as many free throws. If you had to watch the game and give me the stats, I would have thought we were outrebounded by 20 but it was six or seven. At the offensive end, the assists were even basically 21 and 19. The three-point game was the difference tonight.”
“That doesn’t negate or take away the fact that they were more physical than us,” said Popovich. “But we have to find out why they got so many threes and what what we need to do defensively to shore that up.”
Kevin Durant led Team USA with 17 points, followed by Jayson Tatum with 15 and Damian Lillard with 14. Nigeria guard Gabe Vincent, who plays for the Miami Heat, made 6 of 8 3-pointers and finished with 21 points. Calab Agada, who plays in the Isreali league, made three 3-pointers and finished with 17 points.
Coming into the game Team USA had been 54-2 in exhibition games since professionals started playing in 1992. Just nine years ago, they beat Nigeria by 83 points in the London Olympics. Five years ago, Team USA beat Nigeria by 43 points in an exhibition matchup.
Team USA takes the court again on Monday against Australia.