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Tokyo field promises to be a dogfight after USA fall to Nigeria and Australia
LAS VEGAS (USA) - The men's basketball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics is shaping up to be among the most competitive in recent memory if friendly wins for Nigeria and Australia over the USA are anything to go by.
Nigeria, who played at the last two Olympics and suffered a historic 156-73 beatdown to the USA in the 2012 London Games (the 156 were the most points scored by any team in Olympic history), beat the Americans in Las Vegas on Saturday, 90-87.
On Tuesday evening, Australia came from behind at halftime to win 91-83.
Durant and the USA followed up their loss to Nigeria with another to Australia
The games were only warmups, yet they were still important, especially for Nigeria.
"It's a good win for us," Nigeria coach Mike Brown said. "I don't think any African team has been able to beat USA Basketball in an exhibition game or a real game. To try and get a little momentum ... for Nigeria, for the continent of Africa because we feel like we represent more than just Nigeria, and really for all the black people around the world to get that win and show we can be was a big moment for us."
Gabe Vincent exploded for 21 points. He drilled six of his eight attempts from three-point range. Nigeria out-rebounded the USA, too, 46-34.
USA coach Gregg Popovich, who was at the helm of the team that lost to France in the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, said: "The stats – I almost wanted to give it back to the stat guys and say, 'Can you do these over? There's got to be some mistakes. Do your homework over again.' Because I thought we got murdered on the boards. We got beat on the boards, but I thought we got murdered."
Nigeria's victory raised eyebrows, and Australia's did as well, even if maybe it should not have. Australia, whose Pat Mills and Joe Ingles have been in the national team since the Beijing Olympics 13 years ago, have the advantage of continuity combined with a lot of talent.
Andrew Bogut retired after the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China. Yet the team has added a real star in Matisse Thybulle.
While Mills poured in 22 points and Ingles 17, Thybulle had 12 points, three steals and two blocks against the Americans.
Patty Mills, Joe Ingles and Matisse Thybulle all come up big in the @aus_boomers victory over #USABMNT in exhibition play to prepare for Tokyo.@Patty_Mills: 22 PTS (10 in 4th)@Joeingles7: 17 PTS, 3 3PM@MatisseThybulle: 12 PTS, 3 STL, 2 BLK pic.twitter.com/InXEGZmykS— NBA (@NBA) July 13, 2021
Mills and Ingles are NBA veterans while Thybulle, who plays for Philadelphia, is one of the top defenders in the league.
"Whoever we face, whatever time it is, we feel like we can win the game," Ingles said.
That is probably the sort of belief in many teams that will be at the Olympics. There will be respect for the USA team that is full of NBA players, yet players in each national team will believe in their chances because of their talent, experience and continuity.
The influx of overseas talent to the NBA means that no team will be in awe of any opponent. Fans in Europe are still buzzing about their four teams - Slovenia, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic - after each won FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments on July 4.
The USA are still the favorites to win the Olympic gold medal, which would be a fourth straight. But the performances of Nigeria and Australia and some excellent displays from other national teams getting ready to take part suggest they are going to have a real dogfight.