After falling as much as nine points behind in the first half, the USA team showed their shooting power in the second half and started to look like the type of team coach Gregg Popovich had envisioned during from the list selection.
“We’re getting better and better every day,” said Popovich, who will cross the Pacific Ocean on Monday with a team that has only played six practices and four games. “Less is more. Reinventing the wheel is the worst thing you can do with this group. “
Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Zach LaVine combined nine 3-pointers and Keldon Johnson – who was promoted to the senior squad on Friday after Kevin Love left – immediately showed how fresh, young legs can make the mark. difference.
Johnson, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs from Popovich, scored 15 points on 7 of 9 shots and was the team’s best over-18 as his aggressiveness in the ground run and within the offensive s ‘is unmarked. The large crowd at Mandalay Bay rewarded Johnson with a standing ovation after leaving in the fourth quarter.
“Keldon Johnson just played a strong basketball game,” Popovich said. “He pulled it when it was open and when it went to the bucket it was very physical. “
LaVine, who like Johnson has the advantage of having more rest because his Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs, also showed great energy as he did over the past two weeks in Vegas. While he has occasionally angered Popovich with defensive mistakes, his athleticism is needed and it showed with two more power dunks on his way to 13 points.
Americans face an array of challenges, from losing Bradley Beal and prep time to COVID-19, to compact season fatigue that affected their conditioning, to lack of depth as three main players play in the NBA Finals.
The disruption left them unlike any modern-day national team and it showed last week in Las Vegas, where they went 2-2 and rarely looked like the overwhelming gold medal favorites under which they have been installed.
They don’t have the staff or the manpower to play the quick attack that former coach Mike Krzyzewski made a hallmark of winning the last three gold medals, at least not before the finish. reinforcements. Their pace is sometimes downright slow, leaving them to rely on players who do not know each other to react and read in the half court.
But they have firepower, as Durant finished with 14 points and Lillard added 19. Both carried the team’s offense.
Spain were led by Ricky Rubio’s 23 points.
The Americans open Sunday’s Olympic group match against France in Saitama, outside Tokyo. Depending on the final end date and travel times, they could play this game with just nine players.
“We have been preparing for France for two years,” Popovich said. “I think about it every day. ”