Lillard Leads The Way But Team USA Falls Again In Exhibition Play
LAS VEGAS -- Damian Lillard expected to play a markedly different role with Team USA than he typically does with the Portland Trail Blazers when he signed up to represent the United States at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. And while that might very well end up being the case, through two exhibition games in Las Vegas, one gets the sense that the load Lillard might have to carry in order to uphold the United State’s reputation might be a bit heavier than anyone might have thought.
After dropping their first exhibition games to Nigeria Saturday afternoon, they followed it with a 91-83 loss to Australia at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas Monday night.
After never really looking like the better team in a 90-87 loss to a Mike Brown-coach Nigerian roster, the USA, behind the play of Lillard, looked far more impressive in the first half of Monday’s contest versus Australia, one of the favorites to medal in Tokyo.
Coming off tallying 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, five rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in the loss to Nigeria, Lillard seemed to come out more determined versus Australia, putting up 16 points in the first half on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three to lead the USA to a 46-37 halftime lead.
But the Australians made short work of that lead in the third, and would go on to outscore the Americans 32-18 in the quarter to take a 69-64 lead into the fourth. The United State did reclaim the lead midway through the fourth, but were outscored 11-1 in the final four and a half minutes to come away with the eight-point loss.
Lillard finished with a team-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, four rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in just under 31 minutes. After being by far the United State’s most effective offensive weapon in the first half, Lillard got just five attempts in the second half and only one in the fourth.
“I think the more time we spend on the floor together, the more we’ll figure each other out and figure out ways to get the ball moving,” said Lillard post-game. “We’re kind of overthinking, trying to run plays, trying to stay out of each other’s way and overly trying to do the right thing. But I think to start tonight, our pace was better, we pushed the ball up, we kept it simple, we attacked, we was pitching it and making the extra play or the extra pass, sometimes too much. I think that just showed that we’re moving in the right direction, figuring each other out.”
That process of figuring each other out will continue Tuesday when the United States faces off with Argentina, a team that was blown out by Nigeria Monday night, in their third warmup games Tuesday night in Las Vegas. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. on NBC Sports.