Lillard And Team USA Best Argentina For First Win In Las Vegas

by Casey Holdahl
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LAS VEGAS -- Team USA might not be “back” just yet, but they looked a whole lot closer to it Tuesday afternoon than they had in their first week of preparation for the 2021 Summer Olympics.

After losing their first two games of a five-game exhibition schedule leading up to the upcoming Olympics, the United State’s Men’s team defeated their Argentinian counterparts 108-80 in front of a crowd of 4,697 Tuesday at Michelob ULTRA Arena on the grounds of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.

“Some of the players haven’t played in a while, let alone practicing together,” said Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Popovich. “They haven’t shot the ball, they haven’t been doing a whole lot, so these moments to play these games are huge for us. It was better, bit by bit every day, I hope.”

Tuesday’s performance felt like a logical next step for the Americans. After being outplayed over the course of four quarters by Nigeria in their first exhibition loss, the United States looked to be the better team in the first half of their next contest versus Australia, even if they would go on to falter down the stretch in the second half. But the next day versus Argentina, the United States put together four solid quarters and led by as many as 31 points before coming away with a 28-point, wire-to-wire victory.

“I thought we sustain it pretty well,” said Popovich. “In our game against Australia we competed well, rebounded, played D, ran the floor, had good pace for a half and it dissipated through the second half. Tonight I felt we maintained that pretty much throughout the game, so hopefully that’s a sign that we are getting a little better conditioning.”

Much the same could be said about Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard’s performance in the first three games of his international career. While he’s a first-timer on the Men’s National Team, all indications are that he’s assumed something of a leadership role both on and off the court, so after getting his feet wet versus Nigeria, he came out firing versus Australia to the tune of 16 first-quarter points, though he, much like the team, was nowhere near as effective in the second half.

But Tuesday, in the second game of a back-to-back, Lillard looked to be in command during the entirety of his 26 minutes of play. He went 4-of-5 from the field, 3-of-4 from three for 13 points and handed out three assists in 14 first-half minutes. And while he would go scoreless for the rest of the game, though that seemed due to trying to get his teammates involved.

Lillard would finish with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting, four assists, three rebounds and a block while turning the ball over just twice in 26 minutes. What’s more, Argentina’s starting guards Facundo Campazzop and Nicolas Brussino combined to go just 4-of-17 from the field.

Team USA now has two days off before getting a rematch versus Australia in the penultimate game of their exhibition schedule in Las Vegas. Tipoff is scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m.


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