Lillard And Team USA Shake Off Another Slow Start To Beat Spain, Advance To Semifinals

by Casey Holdahl
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After trailing the Czech Republic by double digits in the first half of their last game of group play, the United States Men’s Basketball Team found themselves in the same situation versus Spain in the quarterfinals of the tournament at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

And in both instances, Team USA pulled away for a convincing victory.

After having no answer for Ricky Rubio on defense and clanking wide open three after wide open three on offense in the first half, the United States settled in on both ends of the court in the second half to come away with a 95-81 victory at Saitama Super Arena in Japan’s capital.

With the win, the United States are now 3-1 at the 2020 Games and are 13-0 all-time versus Spain in the Olympics. The United States will now move on to play Auastralia in the semifinals. With the loss, Spain has been eliminated and will not medal in the Olympics for the first time since 2004.

While they won their final two games of group play versus Iran and Czech Republic by an average of 44.5 points, there were still plenty of questions about the United State’s chances to win gold at Tokyo after they lost back-to-back friendlies in the run up to the 2020 Games and started the tournament with a loss to France. And when they trailed 39-29 to Spain, the defending FIBA World Champions, with 3:25 to play in the first half, it seemed as though making it out of Group A might have had more to do with the level of competition than their own quality.

But between forgoing three-pointers for attempts at the rim, actually putting forth some effort on the defensive end and the fear of being the first team in the country’s history not win a medal at an Olympics, the United States got their act together by closing out the second quarter on a 14-3 run to tie the game at 43-43 by the halftime intermission.

And they carried that performance over into the second half. The United States opened up the third quarter by outscoring Spain 22-6 to take a 65-49 advantage midway through the quarter. But after being held without a field goal for the first five-plus minutes of the third, Spain, almost entirely due to Rubio and Sergio Rodriguez, closed out the quarter on a 14-4 run to cut the United State’s lead to six going into the fourth.

But an early 12-2 run in the fourth, with five of those points coming from Damian Lillard, gave the USA an 81-66 lead with 6:35 to play. Spain would never get the advantage under double digits thereafter in what could very well be the final Olympic appearance for the likes of Pau and Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull and Rodriguez, a core group that led the Iberians to a level of success in international basketball few countries have reached.

As for the United States, their quest continues, though they’ll likely have to better in the semifinals than they were in the quarterfinals if they’re to move on to their fourth-consecutive Olympic gold medal game.

Lillard, who has started all four games thus far at the Tokyo Olympics, went 4-of-10 from the field and 2-of-7 from three for 11 points, four assists and four rebounds in 22 minutes. Kevin Durant led the Americans with 29 points in 31 minutes. Jayson Tatum added 13 points and Jrue Holiday finished with 12 in 23 minutes.

Rubio led all scorers with 38 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the field to go with four rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes. Rubio’s effort is the most points an opponent of the United States has scored in Olympic play. Former Trail Blazer Sergio Rodriguez went for 16 points in 21 minutes.

The United States will now meet Australia, one of the teams they lost to in warmup games in Las Vegas a little less than a month ago, in the semifinals. Tipoff is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo, which is Tuesday at 9:40 p.m. on the west coast. The game will stream live on the Peacock app.

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