SAITAMA, Japon (AP) – Damian Lillard was almost prone, trying to save a possession the United States couldn’t afford to lose.
Not only was he unable to recover the ball after slipping, but made matters worse when he strained his leg and inadvertently tripped Frenchman Evan Fournier, who was called up for an unsportsmanlike foul.
Lillard’s stumble with 17 seconds left was one of the lasting images of the Americans losing 83-76 in their first Olympic game. Now, just like their guard after this fall, the United States must rise again.
“I think we’re more than capable of doing it,” said Lillard.
Lillard and Bam Adebayo have already proven that they can come back after the disappointment with the national team.
Both were cut off in previous attempts to wear red, white and blue, but returned to become two of the most important players on this year’s squad. They were both in the starting XI on Sunday and Adebayo was one of America’s best players, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
It was a strong start, he thinks it should have happened two years earlier.
The Miami Heat star was in training camp with the Americans in Las Vegas, but was abandoned by coach Gregg Popovich before the team left for China and a possible seventh place at the Basketball World Cup. -ball.
“As I have always said before, I feel like I should have been in the team from the start,” said Adebayo. “But Pop and I solved it and I just worked on my game. He said I wasn’t ready so I was right to prove that I could have been part of the squad and that. was my goal, and I did.
Adebayo then helped the Heat reach the NBA Finals in 2020 and Popovich admitted that the forward maybe should have been part of the squad. Adebayo eagerly agreed when he got his second chance two years later.
Lillard’s bad feelings lasted longer.
He was abandoned by the Americans just before they left for Spain in 2014 for the World Cup, possibly making him the best player cut by the United States since Jerry Colangelo started the team’s program. national in 2005. wanted to return.
“I didn’t feel like I was above being cut or anything, I just felt like the time spent in the offseason, I just felt like I wasn’t given a great opportunity to be part of the team or to make a different impression than that, ”said Lillard. “So I think that’s why it was a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth after leaving the team and I just decided for a few years that it just wasn’t something I wanted. do. “
The United States kept Derrick Rose on Lillard that summer, allowing him to come back from a few years of knee injuries at the World Cup. Rose shot 25% in the tournament and missed 18 of 19 3-pointers, so it was easy to see why Lillard thought he would have been better.
The Americans needed quality guards in 2016 after All-Stars Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook withdrew from the exam, but Lillard showed no interest in these Olympics. He said he was thinking of playing in the 2019 World Cup, but decided to move on.
USA Basketball officials had usually just named their roster of 12 players in the Olympic years, but made cuts a few times before the world championships. Trying to tell players that they are not wanted at this point but could be in the future is something Colangelo needs to navigate.
“Each player has their own way of dealing with something that doesn’t happen very often to players at this level, that they haven’t made a team,” said Colangelo.
“So you need maturity, you need the will not to look back and to look ahead and take advantage of the next opportunity. And they’re different for each of those two players, but at the end of the day that’s the decision they both came to. “
The Americans will have to play better, from Wednesday against Iran, if these decisions pay off in gold.
“The next one is the most important,” said Lillard.
Looks like someone who understands second chances.