25 July, 2021
07 August
0 Chikezie Jake Okpala (NGR), 5 Patty Mills (AUS)
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Day 1 proves the old premise: Big-time players win big-time games

TOKYO (Japan) - Tomas Satoransky, the Italian forwards, Patty Mills, Evan Fournier. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and shine on the grandest of stages in all of sports ~ the Olympic Games.

The Czech Republic made their Olympic debut and you could feel the teams' nerves all the way up on the 20th row of the Saitama Super Arena. Tomas Satoransky probably isn't one to admit it, but you got the sense that even he was feeling the Games-time jitters too, despite putting on a personal dunk show during warmups.

Satoransky only shot 2-of-14 from the field, but he filled the rest of the statistical lines to finish with  6 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals. The Czech Republic were up by 22 on Iran, but they relaxed too soon and allowed the Asian team to crawl back to 84-78 by the game's end.

"We needed to win. It's better to win than to lose, of course. We are a little bit disappointed because we were up by 22, but I believe we can still beat France," Czech Republic head coach Ronen Ginzburg said. "I'm happy with the win. For sure it could've been by more points, but I'm happy."

Satoransky's clutch shooting from the Olympic qualifiers might not have been on display during day one of the Tokyo Games, but the rest of his all-around game was on point

He wasn't concerned about Satoransky's poor shooting day because he had ten other players doing their part. But the "leader leading" part was said out loud by Patrik Auda (16pts, 6reb) when asked about Tomas and Jan Vesely.

"They are both great players, to be on the floor with them makes everything easier," Auda said. " I get to learn from them, they have so much experience, and playing with both of them is a lot of fun." 

Melli and Fontecchio helped lead Italy to a critical victory over Germany 

The leaders were in even better shape for Italy. Sure, Simone Fontecchio exploded for 20 points on 5-of-5 shooting from deep, but Nicolo Melli and Danilo Gallinari came up with a lot of clutch plays to guide Italy to a 12-0 run to end the game with a 92-82 win over Germany.

"I was kinda hoping Gallinari with no games together would pose a problem for Italy, but he was awesome," Germany head coach Henrik Rodl said. "When he's able to get his shots, they almost always look like they are going in. To come and play in a game like that with no preparations, that was impressive."

Gallinari had 18 points off the bench, but the whole of Italy was happy to see the captain taking over in the clutch.  Melli struggled at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, scoring a total of 10 points in three games. The struggles are gone as the captain had 13 points in this one while also adding  two clutch steals to his name, too.

"I'm super happy for Nicolo Melli. He's had a difficult year in the NBA, he did not play a lot, and he struggled in the Qualifiers, but he always showed us the way, how to play defense, rebound, share the ball," Fontecchio said. "He's a team leader. Today he showed it once again, with crucial shots and plays, I'm very happy for him." 

OOlympic flag bearer Patty Mills played at a point-god-like level again on the international stage for the Boomers

The third game of the day was close for 20 minutes, but then Patty Mills decided he's had enough. Australia blew out Nigeria 84-67  as the flag bearer scored 25 points to go along with 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. Every time he suits up for the Boomers, Mills is doing something special.

"Patty is being relied upon more here (compared to the San Antonio Spurs). He's got tremendous confidence, he's got the ball a lot more in his hands, and it's interesting to me, our first year together was back in Beijing in 2008," Australia head coach Brian Goorjian said. "We played the USA there, and our only chance was to run the middle pick and roll with Patty and Andrew Bogut, they could not defend that. He's a feature for us, for sure." 

Adding his own two cents, Mills said: "I am who I am. It's just the roles that I play, that's the easy answer."

Evan Fournier weaving and muscling  his way to the basket against one of the best in the defensive business: Draymond Green

To finish off the day of the leaders, Evan Fournier went crazy against the USA - again. France won two straight games against the USA, a feature that was last done at a global level by Argentina at the World Cup in 2002 and the Olympics in 2004. Argentina did lose twice to the USA in the FIBA AmeriCup in 2003, but still have two global wins over the USA in their books.

"The difference in celebration (now and in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019) was... this is just the group phase. We won one, but we could lose the next two and go home. The other one was a Quarter-Final, which was obviously different," Evan Fournier explained the lack of partying on the court after the final buzzer sounded and the score said France 83, USA 76.

Fresh off the airplane one day earlier, Jrue Holiday's play was a lonely bright spot for Team USA's play in the Tokyo Olympics opener

Fournier scored 28 points on 11-of-22 shooting, taking his aggression to a whole new level while not being afraid to take on the assignment of chasing Kevin Durant on defense, either. Jrue Holiday played out of his mind, with 18 points off the bench to lead the USA, but it wasn't to be.

With Damian Lillard struggling against the strong set defense of France and Durant in foul trouble, the USA failed to find their leader in the closing minutes. And thus lost their first game at the Olympics in 25 years. They will play against the Czech Republic and Iran in the next two games; there's still enough time to point the ship in the right direction.

But for now, the description of this tournament was served by Fournier.

"You have to compete with (USA). That's the message behind everything. We have to show these guys that we're not going to back down and they are just like us. They are better individually. But they can be beaten as a team."

Especially if that team has a leader, ready to step up on the biggest stage of them all.