Tokyo Olympic favourites the United States of America suffered a surprise defeat to Australia in Vegas last night, just days after losing in similarly shocking fashion to Nigeria.
Head Coach Gregg Popovich saw his side defeated 91-83 at the Michelob ULTRA Arena, overseeing the ignominy of first back-to-back losses for the US since 1992 when NBA players first turned out for the national side.
The US have now lost as many games in the last 72 hours (0-2) as they had in almost three decades between 1992 and 2021 (54-2).
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Saturday’s defeat to Nigeria had been America’s first ever defeat to an African side, with yesterday’s result marking only a second win for Australia in 30 matches against the US.
Popovich shuffled the pack following Saturday’s disaster, bringing in Draymond Green and Jerami Grant to feature alongside a star-studded cast of Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.
Portland’s Lillard led scoring for the three-time defending champions with 22, whilst Durant shot for 17.
Despite leading at the half-way mark, a sharp-shooting fourth-quarter display from Patrick Mills saw Australia pull off the upset.
Mills shot 10 of his 22 points in the final-quarter, continuing his good form after scoring a match-winning three-pointer against Argentina in their opening exhibition match on Saturday.
Despite his offensive heroics, the San Antonio Spurs man was keen to praise his side’s defensive efforts when questioned after the game.
“We understand for us to be really competitive and achieve our goals, we have to hang our hat on defence,” Mills said.
He added: “Especially [against] a team like the US, [who can get] out in transition [for] easy lay-ups and dunks.
For us to take away that was pretty impressive for our second game.
The defeat only increases the pressure on the US side and Popovich, who got into a heated exchange with a reporter following the match.
He said: “I thought we got better tonight. After a short time together, there’s a lot of things that have to be covered, but the first and second half were two different beasts.
“In the first half, we defended the way we wanted to defend. We moved the ball better at the offensive end and had more pace. In the second half, we tired out.
Lillard, who accounts for six of a total 37 combined NBA All-Star appearances in the 12-man US roster, acknowledged that the prestige of his side’s squad makes them a target.
He said: “It’s not the first time that I’ve seen Team USA beat two times in a row, but I’ve seen it before.
These other teams and these other countries just continue to improve. These players, they get better, they get more confident and they also want to beat us badly. It’s definitely noticeable when you’re on the court.
Amidst increasing scrutiny in US media, Lillard and co must now regroup ahead of three more Vegas exhibition matches.
They face Argentina today, before a chance for revenge against Australia on July 16th.
A bout with Spain marks the last exhibition before Tokyo, wherein the US will begin their Olympic journey against France on July 25th.
For Australia, an injury scare for Aron Baynes will be the only dampener ahead of their final exhibition matches before the Games.
A collision with Beal that forced him off leaves Baynes a doubt for the game against Nigeria and the reverse fixture with the US.
Head coach Brian Goorjian will now be sweating on the Toronto Raptors center’s fitness ahead of their opening Olympic match with Nigeria.
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