There’s a 16-hour time difference between Tokyo and Portland, so when the Group A match between the United States and Iran tipped off at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, folks back on the west coast were furiously trying to find a stream of the game at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday night.
Damian Lillard made it worth the trouble.
The Oakland native playing, in the second game of his first Olympics, made six three-pointers in 13 first-half minutes as the United States defeated Iran 120-66 in group play at the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I think we came out with a lot more urgency,” said Lillard. “Our energy was higher, we played at a faster pace, we was more aggressive and we played like ourselves. We didn’t come out here and think that it was just going to happen, we made it happen. That’s the way that we’ve got to play if we want to be successful in the Olympics.”
The United States is now 1-1 in Group A with one game remaining versus Czech Republic. The tournaments comprised of three groups of four teams, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The two best third-place teams will also advance to the knockout round.
There was little doubt that Team USA would come out motivated versus Iran after having a 25-game winning streak in the Olympics snapped with an 83-76 loss to France in their first game of the 32nd Olympiad at Sunday at Saitama Super Arena. That motivation, and the significant gap in talent between the two teams, was evident early, with Lillard and the rest of the Americans knocking down their shots from deep on one end and playing lockdown defense on the other.
“That’s the way we’ve got to play,” said Lillard. “We got to make guys uncomfortable, be up into the ball, in the passing lane, communicating. That’s how we’re going to be most effective. When we defends that way, we can get out in transition, get easier baskets not playing against a set defense as often. I think we did that from the jump tonight.”
The resulting effort allowed the Americans to hold Iran to just 12 points in the first quarter before taking a 60-30 lead into the halftime intermission.
By time it was over, Team USA scored 37 points off turnovers, 38 fastbreak points and led by as many as 57 points in a game that was effectively over midway through the second quarter.
Lillard started, as he did versus France, and scored 18 of his game-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the first half while also finishing with five assists and two rebounds in 23 minutes after putting up 11 points on 30 percent shooting in the loss to France.
“In the first game I felt like I wasn’t myself,” said Lillard. “I wasn’t aggressive, passing up shots, trying too hard to do the right thing. And that’s not what we here for. We here to dominate and be winners and represent our country the right way. We didn’t feel like we did that in the first game and tonight, I think everybody was just anxious to get back out there and get off to a good start, being aggressive. And that was my primary focus was to come out here, be aggressive and be myself.”
All seven of Lillard makes came from three, making him just the fourth player in Unite States history to make seven threes in an Olympic game. And his 18 points are the most an active Trail Blazer has ever scored for Team USA, surpassing Clyde Drexler’s 17 points versus Spain in the 1992 Olympics.
Team USA now wraps up group play on Saturday versus Czech Republic in the game they must win to ensure a chance at a medal. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 a.m. on the west coast on the Peacock app.