The U.S. men’s basketball team is off to a rocky start with less than two weeks to go before it starts an important Olympic run.
The No. 1-ranked country in the world lost its first two of five pre-Olympic exhibition games: to Nigeria (No. 22 in the world) on Saturday, now to No. 3 Australia.
Australia notched its second win over the U.S., 91-83, on Monday night, after also winning a pre-World Cup exhibition in August 2019; that time the score was 98-94.
Australia has never outscored the U.S. in major competition (0-15 in Olympic and world championship play), but now owns a 2-5 record in exhibitions.
With the U.S. leading through much of the first half in Las Vegas, Australia went on a 19-6 run in the last five minutes of the third quarter, bringing the score to 69-64 in the Boomers’ favor.
The U.S. tied it up with a Draymond Green free throw with less than five minutes left in the final quarter, with Jayson Tatum giving the U.S. a brief lead.
Australian Patty Mills, a point guard for the Spurs, landed both of his free throws to bring it back to a tie, 82-82. Mills then scored five more points by the end of the period as Australia continued to extend its lead.
Mills and American Damian Lillard each scored 22 points to lead the game. Australia’s Nick Kay led in rebounds (9) with Green notching a game-high five assists.
Australia has never won an Olympic medal in its 14 appearances, which includes losing the bronze to Spain by a single point five years ago in Rio.
The squad hoping to change that this summer includes six NBA players. Australia’s 2008 Olympic team only had one.
“No words will be able to explain,” Mills, a soon-to-be four-time Olympian, said of potentially earning an Olympic medal. “Head down in the sand, we’re all in the trenches together. We know what it would mean to us, what it would mean to our entire country.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. is after a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal and redemption following a seventh-place finish at the 2019 World Cup, its worst-ever international tournament result.
The Americans only had four days to train together leading up to the Nigeria game, their first loss against an African nation.
“I was pleased, I thought we got better tonight,” head coach Gregg Popovich said, noting the defense was much improved in the first half. “After a short time together, there’s a lot of things that have to be covered.”
Three of the Olympic team players — Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton — are still playing in the NBA Finals and have yet to join the national team.
The U.S. has a tight turnaround before its next matchup, against Argentina, which will be broadcast on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Nigeria took another big win on Monday, 94-71 over No. 4 Argentina.
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