USA basketball’s pre-Olympics tune-up is not off to a good start.
Team USA lost to Nigeria on Saturday night in the first of its five exhibition games. The Mike Brown-coached squad earned the 90-87 victory by dropping a barrage of 3-pointers — 20, to be exact — on its supposedly superior opponent, which was favored by 29.5 points.
Team USA coach Gregg Popovich thinks the defeat could be a good thing, however.
“In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened,” he said, per NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes. “It could be the most important thing in this tournament for us.”
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Perhaps the loss — and playing a game that was tight down the stretch — will be good for Team USA, but that doesn’t make it any less surprising. In its previous two games against Nigeria, Team USA had won by 44 and 83 points. It set a scoring record with 156 in the 83-point victory at the 2012 London Olympics.
Of course, this iteration of the Nigerian team is stronger than the country’s squads from years past. It features eight NBA players: Precious Achiuwa (Heat), Chimezie Metu (Kings), Jordan Nwora (Bucks), Jahlil Okafor (Pistons), Josh Okogie (Timberwolves), KZ Okpala (Heat), Miye Oni (Jazz) and Gabe Vincent (Heat). Two others, Michael Gbinije and Ekpe Udoh, also have NBA experience.
Nonetheless, Twitter users roasted Team USA for its performance in the stunning defeat. In particular, users took aim at Kevin Durant.
BREAKING: Following Nigeria’s upset win over Team USA, Kevin Durant has declared he will be joining Nigeria for the remainder of the Olympics. pic.twitter.com/gn9dHl8ewJ
— ⁷ 𝗙𝗹𝘂 (@fludip) July 11, 2021
Team USA will look to answer its critics and bounce back against Australia on Monday (8 p.m. ET) in its second pre-Olympics exhibition.