From the beginning against Argentina, the USA Basketball Men’s National Team players made sure they wouldn’t be losing three games in row.
Just seconds after controlling the opening tip, Bradley Beal found forward Bam Adebayo for an emphatic alley-oop.
The U.S. was off and running … and shooting … and dunking, en route to a 108-80 victory over the Argentinians inside the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday night.
The victory was just what the U.S. needed following close losses to Nigeria and Australia in its first two exhibition games in Las Vegas. Coming into the game against the U.S., Argentina was ranked fourth in the world by FIBA, and was the last team to win Olympic gold (in 2004) prior to the U.S. winning in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Beal and forward Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 17 points, while Zach LaVine had 15, Damian Lillard added 13 and Adebayo finished with 12 points.
Argentina was led by 41-year-old Luis Scola’s 16 points and five rebounds. Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo added 12 points.
U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich appreciated his team’s quick start, which included a barrage of 3-pointers by Durant, Beal, Lillard and LaVine, as the U.S. built a 28-12 lead after about seven minutes of play.
But, more importantly, Popovich was satisfied with the effort by the group throughout the entire four quarters after noticing fatigue setting in during the previous two games.
“I thought we sustained it pretty well in our game against Australia, and we competed well, rebounded, played defense, ran the floor and had good pace for one half, but then it dissipated through the second half,” Popovich said. “Tonight, I thought we maintained (effort) pretty much throughout the game, so hopefully that’s a sign that we are in a little better condition. … To play these games is huge for us. So, it was better, and it is getting better, bit by bit, every day.”
At the half, the U.S. led 58-42, and Durant had scored 14 points followed by Lillard (13) and Beal (12). Adebayo, who was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench against Australia, had four points in the half along with five important, early assists to help his team get off to the quick start.
“I thought both Bam and Draymond Green facilitated a lot of action, and they were very active,” Popovich said. “They got everybody involved, which is something that’s really important for us. Those are the kind of talents they have and that fits best with our shooters. So, providing that sort of situation where shooters can get open shots is important, and we did it without turning the ball over, which makes it wonderful.”
Opening the third quarter, Durant continued his hot shooting by hitting another 3-pointer, and when Adebayo completed a fast break layup, the USA lead was 69-46 with 7:05 left in the third quarter.
The rout was on for the U.S and the relief of securing a much-needed victory was felt by the team and the 4,697 fans in attendance.
Plus, the learning process took another step forward for the U.S.
“The biggest thing we have to realize is that it’s not the NBA, and coach Pop keeps reemphasizing that to us every single day,” Beal said. “It’s more physical. These guys have been playing together for five, 10-plus years, so they have this experience and chemistry. We’re trying to develop that in a short period of time. A sense of urgency is what we are preaching, but at the same time, every single day we have to get better. There’s still a lot more we can improve on, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
The highlight of the game came at 8:53 left in the fourth quarter and the USA leading 83-62. The high-flying LaVine threw down a poster dunk and was fouled by Juan Pablo Vaulet. LaVine made the free throw to complete the three-point play. It was yet another exclamation point during the first victory of the year for the USA National Team.
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