SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — It wasn’t just that the U.S. had been losing. It was that the level of play was practically un-American.
Playing passively and passing up open shots isn’t the way its players became basketball’s best. And when it resulted in them dropping their Olympic opener, the Americans decided to do something about it.
“After that loss we came together,” guard Damian Lillard said. “It was a lot of communication between then and now where it’s like, ’All right. It’s time to start looking like Team USA.’”
Lillard scored 21 points and the Americans got back to winning — and winning easily — with their first victory of these Olympics, romping past Iran 120-66 on Wednesday.
Devin Booker scored 16 points and Jayson Tatum had 14 for the Americans, who had their 25-game Olympic winning streak snapped with an 83-76 loss to France on Sunday.
The U.S. not only bounced back but did it in a Dream Team-type performance against an overmatched opponent, racing out for transition dunks and stepping back to knock down three-pointers.
“We came out with more freedom as individuals and took the shots that we normally take,” said Kevin Durant. “And they went in tonight and we guarded up, so it was a good step.”
The U.S. plays the Czech Republic on Saturday to close pool play, with a victory guaranteeing the Americans a spot in the single-elimination quarterfinals.
The Americans are probably through already thanks to what will be an enormous point differential as a result of this rout.
The U.S. probably doesn’t care what type of team the performance came against. The Americans just needed to look good against somebody.
They came into the game just 2-3 this summer after splitting their exhibition games in Las Vegas before the loss to France. They had rarely looked sharp while navigating roster changes, a game cancelation for coronavirus safety concerns and the absence of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Booker until the eve of their opener because those three had played in the NBA Finals.
Holiday, who was the best American player in the opener, and Booker moved into the starting lineup Wednesday.
In their second game, the Americans made the shots they normally take. The U.S. knocked down 19 three-pointers and 23 of its 37 shots (62%) inside the arc.
“Now that they’re complete and the whole group is here, they’re having fun doing what you saw,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “Each time we get out on the court, they do it more and more and better and better because they get confidence in the group and how we want to play.”