These games don’t count. Right now, that is the only saving grace for USA Basketball.
And for quite probably the first time in 29 years of NBA players suiting up for the national team, there was a smattering of boos when a game ended – on home soil, no less.
Patty Mills scored 22 points and Australia held the US without a field goal for the final 4:34 on the way to beating the Americans 91-83 on Monday night, dropping the three-time defending Olympic gold medalists to 0-2 in their five-game slate of exhibitions leading up to the Tokyo Games.
“We’re not satisfied. we’ve got a long way to go,” Mills told ESPN afterward. “We can still get a lot better. But defense is where we’re going to hang our hat this whole campaign.”
“We believe in our entire team, and everyone being able to step on the floor and make an impact.”
US coach Gregg Popovich took an optimistic task despite Team USA’s uncertain start.
“I thought we got better tonight,” said Popovich, whose team lost to Nigeria on Saturday. “After a short time together, there’s a lot of things that have to be covered, but the first half and the second half were two different beasts.
“In the first half, we defended the way we wanted to defend. … We rebounded better. We moved the ball better at the offensive end and had more pace. In the second half, we tired out.”
Joe Ingles scored 17 points, Matisse Thybulle scored 12 and Chris Goulding had 11 for Australia.
“We walked into this game expecting to win,” Ingles said.
Damian Lillard led the US with 22 points, while Kevin Durant scored 17 and Bradley Beal finished with 12. But the Americans wasted a 10-point second-half lead, and have dropped back-to-back games for just the third time since NBA players began wearing the red, white and blue in 1992.
The other instances: two straight in the 2002 Fiba World Championship and two straight in the 2019 Basketball World Cup. The US finished sixth in the first tournament, seventh in the other. And while these are glorified scrimmages, this much is already certain – a medal seems far from a lock for the US.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve seen Team USA be tested,” Lillard said. “Maybe not beat two times in a row, but I’ve seen it before. These other teams and these other countries just continue to improve. These players, they get better, they get more confident and they also want to beat us badly. It’s definitely noticeable when you’re on the court.”
Jayson Tatum’s layup with 4:35 left put the Americans up 82-80. Australia scoured the US 11-1 the rest of the way, and Mills – who plays for Popovich in San Antonio – did most of the damage for the Boomers down the stretch.
“We’re deep,” Mills said. “And yes, not a lot of people might know people on our team. But for them to come in and make big plays is a credit to how much work we’re putting in together, and trusting and believing in each other.”
“I just expect him to do it,” Ingles said of Mills’ big finish. “It’s what he’s done for 12 years. It’s just what he does for our group.”
Favored by 16.5 points before the game, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Americans looked the part for much of the first half. A 20-6 run – capped by five points from Select Team call-up Keldon Johnson – put the US up by eight late in the opening quarter, and Lillard closed out his 16-point first half with a three-pointer 31.7 seconds before intermission that gave the Americans a 46-35 lead.
The halftime lead was nine, the same lead that the US had early in the third quarter against Nigeria before letting it slip away.
And the same thing happened in this one.
The third-quarter lead for the US was as big as 10 and was 58-50 when Lillard made a three-pointer midway through the period. But Australia closed the quarter on a 19-6 run, Goulding hit a three-pointer as time expired and Australia took a 69-64 lead into the final 10 minutes.
“We’ll learn from it,” Popovich said.
The Boomers, according to USA Basketball’s archives, are now 2-28 all-time against the Americans in senior men’s national competition. The other Australian win came in a pre-World Cup exhibition in 2019.