LaVine scores ten in Team USA exhibition loss to Nigeria, 90-87

LaVine was first off the bench for the U.S. team.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

It was one of those games Saturday night for the USA Men's Olympic basketball team - a 90-87 loss to a Nigeria team the U.S. beat by 83 and 44 points in previous international matchups — when you say at least no one was hurt.

Uh oh, except for the Bulls Zach LaVine.

But, whew, LaVine appeared to shake off the effects of an apparent ankle sprain late in the second quarter. He returned to the game and played a leading role in the second half, even finding himself on the free throw line with the U.S. trailing by three points with 3.5 seconds left. One of six American players to score in double figures with 10 points, LaVine missed the first free throw. So he had to intentionally miss the second. But the U.S. failed to secure the rebound and Nigeria went on to become the first nation from Africa to defeat a U.S. team in international competition, albeit an exhibition preparing for the games later this month in Japan.

The Nigerian team did have a half dozen players who are and have been in the NBA, though mostly role players like Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa, Josh Okogie, KZ Okpala, Ekpe Udoh and Chicagoan Jahlil Okafor, the latter who didn't play. They are coached by former Cavs coach Mike Brown. The U.S. team was without three players from the NBA Finals, but started Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal.

Team USA walking on the court

Coach Gregg Popovich said the team still is experimenting with lineups and rotations. LaVine was first off the bench for the U.S. team.

But the more celebrated U.S. players were generally outhustled by the seemingly more motivated Nigerian team. One U.S. strategic question with the selection of the team is the lack of size with Adebayo, Kevin Love and Draymond Green along with Durant the apparent centers. The U.S. was massively outrebounded 46-34. Surprisingly, though, it was the three-point shooting of the Nigerian players that was decisive with 20 makes to 10 for the more proficient U.S. players. Though embarrassing for a U.S. team of All-Stars, Popovich labeled the result a positive for both the message it can send to the U.S. team and the schemes to alter.

The U.S. also doesn't have a classic facilitating guard on the roster with their perimeter players scoring playmakers.

LaVine played point guard extensively for the reserve unit.

The Bulls high scoring guard played the most minutes of the U.S. players off the bench, shooting four of eight overall and two of six on threes. His only free throws were that pair at the end of the game.

Durant and Beal shot a combined five for 20, which enabled the Nigeria team to hold onto a fourth quarter lead and survive a late rush when the U.S. team became more desperate. Perhaps the relative ease in taking a lead early reassured the U.S. players as the U.S. lead by 10 late in that second quarter when LaVine went to the locker room with an apparent ankle sprain.

Zach LaVine playing defense for Team USA

He was closing out on a three-point attempt when he landed awkwardly and grabbed his left ankle. LaVine stayed down a bit as the U.S. called time. He walked to the locker room for treatment, a scare for the Bulls and U.S. team with a worried look on the face of managing director Jerry Colangelo. But LaVine returned to the U.S. bench before halftime and seemed not to have problems with the ankle in the second half. LaVine caught a lob pass for a layup late in the third quarter.

As LaVine said he would, he picked up defensively in the backcourt, went over screens and on one occasion fronted a bigger player in the post to get a steal. Analyst Fran Fraschilla on the broadcast said LaVine could be "a defensive stopper for this team."

But without much rim protection, Nigeria players were able to get to the basket for scores.

The game toggled back and forth in the third quarter after the U.S. had an early nine-point lead and despite a late flurry by the U.S. with Durant making a pair of threes, Nigeria repeatedly came up with big threes of their own for the final result surprise. The U.S. continues its warmups Monday 7 p.m. in Las Vegas against Australia.

Zach LaVine vs Nigeria - USA Basketball Highlight

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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