Team USA might indeed win its fourth consecutive Olympic gold next month in Tokyo.
But if the Americans do, it will be a story of overcoming adversity.
They lost their second consecutive exhibition Monday, this time bested by Australia 91-83 in Las Vegas. Dating to the 2019 World Cup, where they finished seventh, Team USA has lost four of its past five games. It also has lost two in a row now to Australia, a team expected to contend for the gold in Japan.
It was a better showing than the loss to Nigeria on Saturday, but just reading those words is a little mind-boggling considering the pedigree of this roster and coaching staff. Their chemistry and execution, particularly in late-game situations, is holding the Americans back in their early stages of defending their title.
“I thought we got better tonight,” said Team USA coach Gregg Popovich, continuing his stance of emphasizing process over results. “After a short time together, there’s a lot of things that have to be covered.”
Damian Lillard, who had 22 points, and Kevin Durant, who had 17 points, definitely looked more like All-Stars in this game than in the Nigeria loss. They combined to shoot 10-of-20 on 3-pointers, the type of shooting this roster has been designed to deliver.
The Americans had an 11-point first-half lead and played effective physical defense at times, holding Australia to just 13 points in the second quarter. After giving up 20 3-pointers in the exhibition opener, there was a clear effort to challenge them better and Australia had just 10.
Those are the signs Popovich was talking about. But moral victories in losses are a new sensation for Team USA. The loss to Nigeria was deemed one of the great international basketball upsets on record. When this one was over, the Australians gave each other routine congratulations and moved on.
“We walked into this game expecting to win,” said Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz, who had 17 points for Australia. “No disrespect to them, they’re a hell of a team, obviously the guys they’ve got on their roster and Pop standing up there is always nice to see, but we came in here expecting to win the game and that’s what we did.”
For decades, whether it was in tight wins or the rare loss, Team USA cited an inherent disadvantage it has against national teams whose core players de… (Read more)