Before Leaving For Tokyo, Lillard Leads USA Again In Win Versus Spain

by Casey Holdahl
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It took a while, but after after losing consecutive games, one player to “health and safety protocols” and another to injury, Damian Lillard and the United States Men’s Senior National team wrapped up their run of friendlies leading up to the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo with an 83-76 win versus Spain Sunday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

“I think we came in saying we were a group of talented individuals and we were working towards becoming a team, and I think we've gotten better each game since we've been in Vegas,” said Lillard, who started all four games in the USA’s exhibitions. “And tonight in the finale, I think we looked how we want to look getting ready to go to Tokyo tomorrow. We looked like Team USA.”

With the win, Team USA finished their pre-Olympic exhibition schedule with two-straight convincing victories after starting with losses to Nigeria and Australia. One game, a rematch versus Australia, was cancelled due to health and safety protocols. While losing back-to-back games to start their training schedule might have prompted some concern, finishing up their run in Las Vegas with a victory versus the No. 2 ranked team in the world in a game that was not as close in the second half as the final score would indicate.

“It was really important,” said Lillard of the win. “After the first two games, and then our third game we played well and got a win, and then coming out tonight against a really good team, continuing to trend in the right direction. I thought it was a great performance by us.”

It was also Lillard’s best performance thus far as a member of Team USA. The 6-3 guard, who started all four games in Las Vegas, went 6-of-14 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 3-of-4 from the line to lead the United States with 19 points to go with six assists and four rebounds in 32 minutes.

Lillard also turned in his best defensive performance of the warmup games, tallying four steals and three blocks as he, along with the rest of the Americans, seemed to grasp after four games that they can play a much more physical style of defense in international play than what is allowed in the NBA.

Lillard finishes Team USA’s four-game run in Las Vegas having led the team in scoring (17.0 points per game) on 45 percent shooting from the field, 44 percent shooting from three and 80 percent shooting from the free throw line, three-pointers made (4.0 per game), assists (3.7 per game), steals (1.5 per game) and minutes (29.3 per game) while finishing second in blocks (1.2 per game). Despite this being his first experience playing for the national team, Lillard role, both in terms of scoring and leadership, seems second only to Kevin Durant, who won gold with Team USA at both the 2012 and 2019 Olympics.

“Obviously we’ll have significant roles on the team,” said Lillard. “We’ve got a lot of great players on this team, a lot of versatility on this team. So I think myself and KD will have to go over there and play a significant role and we’ll have to do what we do. But I don’t look at it like we have to carry the team, it’s a team full of the best players across our league. Obviously we’ll have to do well, we’ll have to be elite basketball players, but I don’t think it will be like we’ve got to go over there and just carry the team or nothing like that.”

Lillard and Team USA will now travel to Japan in order to take part in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics on Friday, July 23. A few days later, they’ll begin their quest to bring home another Olympic gold in men’s basketball when they face France, one of the favorites to medal in Tokyo, in their first game of group play on Sunday, July 25. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 a.m.


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