Simmons: ‘I feel like I’m in a good place’

Ben Simmons returned to Philadelphia for the first time as an active player on Tuesday night, and it appeared it would be an easy night for the Nets as the 76ers were without Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey, who were all out due to injuries.

However, Tobias Harris had a game and season-high 24 points, De’Anthony Melton added 22 points, including a career-high tying six threes, and Paul Reed chipped in with season-highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench as the 76ers defeated the Nets 115-106 at Wells Fargo Center.

Back to Simmons, who had a tremendous all-around game with 11 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists, three steals, and three blocks, he was booed during introductions, and he was booed every time he touched the ball. Last season, he came to Philly as a member of the Nets as he was dealt to Brooklyn before last season’s trade deadline, but he was a spectator due to injury. Throughout that game, he was booed heavily. However, it was not as bad this time.

“I thought it was going to be louder,” Simmons said after the loss.

We all expected more from the Philly faithful, but with Embiid, Harden, and Maxey out, the fans probably did not think Philadelphia had much chance, which may have impacted the crowd’s energy.

The number one overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft has played well in the last three games as he’s averaging 16 points, 7.6 assists, and 9.3 rebounds per contest, and according to him, he’s in a good place.

“I feel like I’m in a good place to come in here and just play basketball,” Simmons said. “I’m happy. I’m doing what I love, so being able to be out there and experience it was amazing. Obviously, we did not get the result that we wanted. It’s frustrating to lose a game like that, but I think it’s a great step forward.”

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving liked how Simmons handled his return to Philadelphia.

He [Ben Simmons] did pretty good to me,” Durant, who had 20 points, said. “You never know how he really feels about it; you know what I’m saying? Unless you ask him, but he looked solid to me.”

Irving, who had a team-high 23 points, added: “I think he (Ben Simmons) did well. Obviously, we wanted to focus on our team win, but the crowd is not going anywhere, so it’s good to hear their loud voices, hear their boos, and next time hopefully, that motivates us to go out there and get that win a little bit more. We had the lead earlier in the first half, and then we gave it up, so think he did well.”

It appears Simmons is in a better place mentally and physically, and maybe the time away has humbled him, which is always a good thing. In the end, he’s cleared another hurdle. 

Kevin Durant is where he needs to be in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant has decided to stay in Brooklyn after all. The 14-year veteran requested a trade in June and reportedly wanted the team to fire GM Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash. However, on Tuesday, Durant made the decision to stay with the Nets.

According to a statement from the team, Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman met with Nets’ ownership, Marks, and Nash. Ultimately, they came to a resolution.

“Steve Nash and I, together with Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai, met with Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman in Los Angeles yesterday,” Marks said in the statement. “We have agreed to move forward with our partnership. We are focusing on basketball, with one collective goal in mind: build lasting franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn.”

The 33-year-old signed a four-year, $198 contract extension last summer, and that deal begins this season.

Here’s the reality, the Nets have a championship-caliber team. Kyrie Irving, who opted into the final your of his contract after playing in only 29 regular season games due to his refusal to take any COVID vaccines, has a lot to prove this season because he wants to get a big contract in the offseason, so he should be very committed to staying on the court and proving that he’s an elite player that can be trusted. 

Additionally, Ben Simmons is on track to be ready for training camp after offseason surgery. We can say many things about Simmons, but he’s a three-time All-Star, an elite defender(two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team), and has a winning skillset. There was pressure on him to score in Philly, but that will not be the case in Brooklyn as Durant, Irving, and others will handle the scoring load.  

Furthermore, they have shooting with Seth Curry, Patty Mills, and Joe Harris and acquired a solid player in Royce O’Neal from Utah. Also, they added more scoring with T.J. Warren. They could still use some size, but this roster has a decent amount of depth. On paper, it may be the most talented roster in the NBA. Any place Durant would have gone, that team would have had to deplete their roster and draft assets to get him, so again, staying put makes the most sense and gives him the best chance to win another NBA title.

Cavs start slow, finish strong but fall in Brooklyn

The Cleveland Cavaliers were hoping to punch their ticket to the NBA Playoffs when they battled the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Tuesday night in the Play-In Tournament.

Cleveland never led and trailed by 20 points after the first quarter and was down by as many as 22. The Cavs battled back and cut the lead to five late in the game; however, they could not get any closer as the Nets defeated Cleveland 115-108. 

Kyrie Irving had 34 points(12/15 FG, 3/6 3-PT FG) and 12 assists; Irving made his first 12 shots; Kevin Durant added 25 points, five rebounds, 11 assists, and three blocks.

The Nets get the seventh seed in the East and will battle the second seed, the Boston Celtics. The Cavs will try to get the eighth seed Friday night against the winner of Hornets/Hawks.

Here is the Great, Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ loss to the Nets:

The Great for the Cavs:

Darius Garland scored 16 of his 34 points in the fourth. Garland scored the first nine points for Cleveland in the final quarter, and he tried to rescue the Cavs. 

The moment was not too big for him, and the moment has not been too big for him all season long. This is what you want from your best player in a big spot. The All-Star also added five assists and two steals. 

-The moment wasn’t too big for rookie Evan Mobley as well. He had 14 of his 19 points in the second half to go along with seven rebounds and two blocks. Mobley has been steady all season long, and he was steady Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

-Rajon Rondo morphed into “Playoff Rondo” against the Nets. He made the right play time after time. The stat line wasn’t super impressive as Rondo had seven points and nine assists in 26 minutes of action, but he got it done for the Cavs. Rondo and Caris LeVert were the only two Cavs with a positive rating(+2), and Rondo had the best rating in the second half for Cleveland at +9. 

Any Quarter but the First: Cleveland trailed by 20 after the first quarter, but they outscored Brooklyn by 13 points in the final three quarters. They held Brooklyn to 17 points in the second quarter. After shooting 35% in the first half, Cleveland shot 55% from the field, including 50% from deep in the second half. They scored 35 points in the fourth quarter on 55% shooting, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

The Not So Great for the Cavs:

First Quarter: Last Friday, the Cavaliers trailed Brooklyn 34-19 after one quarter, and Tuesday night, the Nets got off to another great start. Brooklyn shot 71% from the floor, including 67% from downtown. Kyrie Irving was 5/5 from the field and scored 11 points in the first quarter; he finished with 20 points in the first half on 9/9 shooting.

The Nets led 40-20 after one quarter and 57-43 at halftime.

Turnovers: Cleveland had 15 turnovers, which led to 24 points for Brooklyn. 

-Isaac Okoro: The second-year guard struggled with his shot Tuesday night. He was 0/3 from the field, all threes, and finished with zero points in 13 minutes. No one expects Okoro to score a bunch, but he had open looks, and he has to make some of those open shots.

Bottom Line:

You can’t spot Brooklyn 20 points and expect to win. Cleveland played well after the first quarter, but they were swimming upstream just like last Friday’s game.

Brooklyn could win a championship, so there is no shame in losing this game. Cleveland has two games to win one. Hopefully, they can get back their All-Star center Jarrett Allen. Cleveland is 35-21 with Allen this season and 9-17 without him, so getting him back would help.

Getting to the playoffs won’t be easy; it should be fun to see the excitement at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Friday night.

What’s Next:

The Cavs return home to battle the winner of Hornets/Hawks in the Play-In Game.

Best of the Rest:

-Kevin Love had a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds; Lauri Markkanen chipped in with 13 points, and LeVert had 12 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.  

-Bruce Brown had 18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and three steals; Andre Drummond chipped in with 16 points and eight rebounds, and Nic Claxton had 13 points and nine rebounds.

Listen below as Garland and Love discuss the team’s loss to Brooklyn:

Cavs fight but fall short in Brooklyn

The Cleveland Cavaliers had a big one Friday night in Brooklyn against the Nets. The winner of this game would have possession of the seventh seed in the East.

Brooklyn led by as many as 17 points, but Cleveland did take their first lead in the third. However, Brooklyn dominated the fourth and defeated the Cavs 118-107 at Barclays Center.

Kevin Durant had a game-high 36 points; Kyrie Irving and Bruce Brown added 18 points apiece; Brown also added 10 rebounds. All five of Brooklyn’s starters scored in double figures.

Cleveland(43-38) has now lost three straight and dropped to eighth in the East, while the Nets(43-38) have won three straight. Brooklyn won the season series(3-1) over the Cavs, which means they are the seventh seed.

Here’s the Great, Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ loss to the Nets:

The Great for the Cavs:

-Darius Garland played like a superstar against Brooklyn. He shot 12/24 from the field, including three threes, and finished with 31 points in 41 minutes of action. The All-Star scored 21 of those 31 points in the second and third quarters. He probably should have played the whole second half, but we’ll get to that later.

-Evan Mobley was back after missing five games with a sprained ankle, and he picked up where he left off. The rookie had 17 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. He also became the eighth Cavs rookie to go over 1000 points in a season. Mobley plays winning basketball, and everything he does contributes to winning.

-Lamar Stevens did not fill up the box score as he only had two points on 1/5 shooting from the field to go along with two rebounds, but he did defend his butt off in the third quarter when the Cavs were making their run. Kevin Durant still got his points; however, late in the third, he forced two Durant turnovers. It wasn’t enough, but give Stevens credit.

Second and Third Quarters: Cleveland trailed 34-19 after the first quarter and looked dead in the water. However, in the second quarter, things got better. Garland had 10 points in the quarter; Cleveland outscored Brooklyn 35-28 and trailed 62-54 at the break.

In the third, things got even better for the Cavs. Brooklyn led 70-60 with just under ten minutes left in the quarter, but Cleveland outscored Brooklyn 28-13 the rest of the third and led by as many as seven. Garland again was big time as he had 11 points in the quarter. The Cavs outscored Brooklyn 34-21 in the third and took an 88-83 lead into the fourth.

Cleveland outscored Brooklyn 69-49 in the second and third quarters.

The Not So Great for the Cavs:

First Quarter: Cleveland did not get the start they wanted. Brooklyn shot 57% from the field, including 4/8 from deep. On the other hand, Cleveland shot 40% from the floor, including 0/7 from downtown. The Cavs had issues stopping Durant, who had 16 points in the quarter. Brooklyn took their largest lead of the game at 34-17 and led 34-19 after one. 

Second Chance Points: Brooklyn is a great offensive team. They are tough to stop, but they become even harder to control when you give them second and third chances. The Nets outrebounded the Cavs 45-31, and Brooklyn had 25-second chance points Friday night, which is a lot. Rebounding is a big part of defense, and Cleveland had difficulty closing the possessions with a rebound. 

Fourth Quarter: Cleveland had all the momentum going into the fourth, but the Nets have firepower for days, and it’s hard to keep them from scoring. Brooklyn went on a 10-4 run to start the fourth to take the lead for good. The Nets led by as many as 15 points in the fourth. The Cavs appeared to run out of gas in the fourth as the Nets outscored them 35-19 in the quarter.

The first 3:09 of the Fourth: You hate to be critical of anybody in this one, but Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff may have made a mistake by resting Garland early in the fourth. Garland was rolling, and so was the team while he was on the court. He did play the whole second and third quarters; however, Garland did get rest at halftime and before the start of the fourth. The Cavs should have ridden its young star to the end. Brooklyn took the lead back while Garland was on the bench and never relinquished it.

Bottom Line:

Cleveland battled in this one, and they played their hearts out, but Brooklyn is Brooklyn, so winning this game would be tough. The Cavs have to start better to beat a team of Brooklyn’s caliber.

Fortunately, the eighth-seeded Cavs got a little help as the Hawks fell to the Heat, which allowed Cleveland to hold the eighth seed and keep the eighth seed if they beat the Bucks in the season finale. The Cavs can still get the seventh seed, but they need to win and Brooklyn to lose to the Pacers at home, which is highly unlikely.

So, Cleveland could be returning to Brooklyn next Tuesday for the 7-8 game in the Play-In Tournament. 

However, unfortunately, Cleveland could fall to the 10th seed if they lose to the Bucks, and Charlotte(Wizards), Atlanta(@Rockets), and Brooklyn(Pacers) win their final game, which would be disastrous.

Getting the eighth seed won’t be easy for Cleveland as the Bucks are still fighting for the second seed in the East, so Sunday’s game should be very interesting.

Remember, the seventh and eighth seeds have two games to win one, while the ninth and tenth seeded teams have to win twice to make the playoffs.

Quotes:

“I’m proud of the way they played and proud of the effort that they played with, the way they kept coming back and staying in the game,” Bickerstaff said after the game.

What’s Next:

The Cavs return home to battle the Bucks in the regular-season finale.

 Best of the Rest:

-Lauri Markkanen had 17 points; Caris LeVert added 16, and Kevin Love had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

-Andre Drummond had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds for Brooklyn.

-Cavs shot 8/27 from three-point range.

Listen below as the Garland and Drummond react to loss to Brooklyn:

76ers’ Harden on loss to Nets: ‘We got our a** kicked’

With Ben Simmons getting booed as he watched in street clothes, the Brooklyn Nets went into Philly Thursday night and beat up and beat down the 76ers 129-100 at Wells Fargo Center.

This was Philly’s(40-25) most lopsided loss of the season.

Brooklyn(34-33) led from start to finish and led by as many as 36 points. Kevin Durant paced the Nets with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists, former Sixer Seth Curry had 24 points, and Kyrie Irving added 22.

The Nets shot 56% from the floor and made 18 threes.

There was a playoff environment in Philly with Simmons, who was traded to Brooklyn along with Andre Drummond, and Curry for James Harden, in town for the first time since the trade. 

However, the Nets took the fans out of the game early with their dominant play as they led by 17 points after one quarter and 21 points at the break.

“It was a good environment to start, but it didn’t finish that way,” Durant said after the game. “So, it didn’t feel like that when we left off the court, it felt like a regular game like I’ve been saying, but I like how we approached the game. I like how we played with physicality and didn’t let any of that stuff affect what we wanted to do; we just stayed focused on us so the crowd, no matter who we played tonight, I felt like we were locked in.”

Irving added: “It was lovely. I enjoyed it. I hope everybody at home enjoyed it – people here. Like I said, it’s great for our league when you can build up that many emotions before a night like tonight. You know there’s going to be one victor, and you want to be on that other end, so I feel like we committed ourselves to playing aggressive defense and just making it tough on them.

On the other side, Philly struggled with making shots(32% FG). Joel Embiid(5/17 FG, 27 points, and 12 rebounds) and James Harden(3/17 FG, 11 points) combined for 8/34 from the field.

“Just missed shots,” Harden said. “I think I just missed shots. There’s no excuses. I’ve gotta be better individually. Some turnovers were just careless. Individually, I’ve gotta be better. As a team, we watch film to see where can we be better. And we just try to continue to improve. This is only our sixth game together as a unit. I’m still trying to figure things out. But, tonight was good for us; we got our a** kicked.”

According to 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, the Nets just played harder.

“I just thought they played harder. They were more aggressive,” Rivers said. “They played in our airspace all night. I thought they were the more physical team all night. I didn’t think we played together tonight. I thought it was one of those games…a great example of a team that hasn’t been together.”

This was a statement game for the Nets, but it might have just been one of them games for Philadelphia. 

Simmons and the Nets get to laugh tonight; however, there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played.

Durant named 2021 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year

After he captured his third Olympic gold medal (2012, 2016, 2020) this past summer at the Tokyo Games, Kevin Durant was honored as the 2021 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year.

“It’s amazing to be honored in this way,” Durant said. “First off to represent your country and do it amongst the best athletes in the world, it’s an honor. So many great athletes come through USA Basketball and the national teams in general in all sports, and so to be chosen as one of the top athletes is an honor. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and thankful that I received this award.”

This is the third time Durant has been honored as the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year. He also was recognized with the award in 2010, and he shared the honor in 2016 with Carmelo Anthony.

“Kevin was an incredible leader for USA Basketball this past summer,” said Jim Tooley, USA Basketball CEO. “With this being his third Olympics, he had the respect of his teammates, and he clearly is one of the best basketball players in the world. USA Basketball is grateful to Kevin for his time and ongoing commitment to our organization, and we are proud to celebrate him as the 2021 Male Athlete of the Year.”

Durant started in all six Olympic match ups for the USA, and he averaged a team-leading 20.7 points per game and team second-best of 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He shot 52.9% from the field, 37.5% from 3-point and 90.5% from the free throw line and was named by FIBA as MVP of the 2020 Olympic men’s basketball tournament.

“As he has done before, Kevin Durant performed brilliantly on the international stage and led the way to another gold medal,” said USA head coach Gregg Popovich, who was named as a co-recipient of the 2021 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year award on Dec. 15. “I remain awed by his work ethic, leadership and desire to excel.”

Durant’s 20.7 ppg. set a U.S. Olympic men’s single-competition record for points averaged, and he tied Carmelo Anthony for most Olympic gold medals (three). Durant is one of just four U.S. male basketball athletes to play in three or more Olympics.

Durant, who has led the USA in scoring in all three of his Olympic appearances and at the 2010 FIBA World Cup, owns eight U.S. Olympic men’s career records, including the top spot for points (435), points averaged (19.8), field goals made (146) and attempted (276), 3-point field goals made (74) and attempted (148) and free throws made (69) and attempted (80).

Among all Tokyo Olympic men’s basketball athletes, Durant ranked third in points scored and field goals made, fourth in field goals attempted and defensive rebounds and sixth in scoring average.

Mavs’ Doncic on conditioning: ‘I know I’ve got to do better’

After three quarters, the Dallas Mavericks had an 86-75 lead over the Brooklyn Nets(17-7) and were in control. However, things fell apart for Dallas in the fourth. The Mavericks went cold in the final period. They shot 19% from the floor, including 1/12 from downtown, and after Tim Hardaway’s three went off the iron at the buzzer, Dallas would fall to the Nets 102-99 at American Airlines Center.

Dallas would end the game shooting (9/46)19.6% from three-point range.

“I saw the same thing you saw – they weren’t going in,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said after the game. “You shoot 46(threes) of them, and you only make nine; that puts you in a tough situation, but our defense again gave us the opportunity. You talk about [Kevin] Durant, [James] Harden – they’re going to make plays, they’re going to make shots. We had a lot of wide-open looks there in the fourth quarter that just didn’t go down. And at the very end, Timmy [Hardaway Jr.] had a wide-open look that, you couldn’t ask for a better look to tie up the game.”

With the loss, Dallas(11-12) has lost eight of 10 and fell below .500 for the first time this season.

Luka Doncic, who led the Mavericks with 28 points, six rebounds, and nine assists, thinks the team needs to stay together to get through the tough times.

“Just stick together. You have 82 games, and we are only about 22 games in. That is a lot of games. We have a lot of things to learn and a lot of things to work on.”

During the game, Doncic was heavily criticized by Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, who was on the call for TNT last night. According to Miller, Doncic needs to get in better shape. 

After the game, Doncic responded to the criticism.

“People are going to talk about it, yes or no,” Doncic said. “I know I’ve got to do better.

“I had a long summer. I had the Olympics, took three weeks off, and I relaxed a little bit. Maybe too much. I’ve just got to get back on track.”

Kidd added on Doncic’s conditioning: “When I got here, this is who he is. That’s all I can really say. This is how I’ve seen Luka [Dončić]. For them to bring that out, maybe they’ve seen him in a different light. That’s all I can really say about that. Different players put on muscle or try to thin out or whatever it may be. You’ll have to ask him that.”

Doncic struggled with his conditioning last season, so this is not new. He’s listed at 6-7, 230 pounds, but some believe he’s bigger than that. Regardless, at age 22, Doncic probably needs to be in better shape.

Notes: 

-The Mavs had six players in double figures as Kristaps Porzingis came away with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists tonight. Dorian Finney-Smith added 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, and three steals.

-Kevin Durant led the Nets in scoring with 24 points – with 16 of those points coming in the second half. Durant added seven rebounds and three assists; James Harden had 23 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists for Brooklyn.

-Dallas heads to Memphis to battle the Grizzlies Wednesday night.

Popovich on winning gold: ‘Every championship is special, and the group you’re with is special’

At times, many thought that the Team USA men’s basketball team would not win gold in Tokyo, especially after losing exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia in Las Vegas and losing to France in their Olympic opener.

However, due to the greatness of Kevin Durant, Team USA was able to capture its fourth consecutive gold medal by defeating France 87-82 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on Saturday.

Durant, who scored 29 points in the gold medal game, was the leader for Team USA and has played a significant role in each of the last three golds. He’s scored 30 points in each of the previous two gold-medal games and now is tied with Carmelo Anthony for the most gold medals in Olympic men’s basketball history.

“I hate to compare stuff because you know everything is its own moment,” Durant said postgame. “But this is one of those special journeys that it’s just hard to describe because each and every one of us put in that work every single day, from the coaches to the trainers, to the players. We all came in with that goal of, ‘Let’s finish this thing off. Let’s build a family. Let’s build this team. Let’s grow this team every day.’ And when you are part of a team that’s evolving by the second, it’s just amazing to see.”

U.S. coach Gregg Popovich has five NBA titles, and now, he has a gold medal.

“Every championship is special, and the group you’re with is special,” he said. “But I can be honest and say this is the most responsibility I’ve ever felt because you’re playing for so many people that are watching and for your country and other countries involved. The responsibility was awesome, and I felt it every day for several years now. I’m feeling pretty light now and looking forward to getting back to the hotel and having something.”

Milwaukee Bucks teammates Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who joined the Olympic team in the early morning hours before the U.S. played France in pool play, became the fourth and fifth players to win the NBA Finals and an Olympic gold in the same year.

According to Holiday, this was a great summer.

“Getting in at one in the morning, me, Book(Devin Booker) and Khris(Middleton), and then playing that night against France, losing that game and then being able to go through the rest of the tournament and then winning the gold medal game,” Holiday said. “I don’t know — I guess me thinking about it, and me telling that story, man, that’s a hell of a summer.”

Give this team a lot of credit. They battled hard to win a gold medal. In the end, the world has caught up. However, the United States is still the top dog in men’s basketball.

Photo: (Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Team USA men’s basketball team defeats Australia to advance to gold medal game

Kevin Durant is flowing right now, and Team USA men’s basketball is benefitting from it. Durant would lead the U.S. with 23 points, and Devin Booker added 20 as they would defeat Australia 97-78 in the semifinals of the 2020 Olympic Games.

With the win, the U.S. will battle France in the gold medal game on Friday.

After being down 41-26 in the second quarter with just under six minutes left, Team USA went on a 16-4 run to close the gap to 45-42 at the break. From there, Durant took control in the third quarter as he would score eight straight points for the U.S., Booker would add 11 points in the third, and ultimately, Team USA never looked back.

USA head coach Gregg Popovich was unhappy with the team’s defensive effort early in the game, but the team, led by Jrue Holiday, who had 11 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds, responded after a little constructive criticism. 

“When we pointed it out, they reacted,” Popovich said about the team’s defensive effort. “In the last five minutes of the second quarter, they were fantastic, and it continued into the third. I give them credit for understanding the game as well as being able to accept the truth. Because you can be with some players that you can tell them something, but they don’t buy it because they can’t handle certain kinds of criticism. But these guys want the truth, and they react to it.”

Duran, who scored 29 points against Spain in the quarterfinals, and passed Carmelo Anthony to become the U.S. men’s leading scorer in the Olympics, added: “I’m looking forward to going out there and executing the game plan on defense,” Durant said. “Offensively, we don’t have to worry about that. But executing the game plan defensively as a team, and we’ll see what happens.”

Getting the gold won’t be easy for Team USA, but it’s clear that they have found their stride and playing good basketball. No team out there is more talented, including France, who beat the U.S. in the preliminary round, so we’ll see if Team USA can get a little revenge and bring home the gold on Friday.

Photo: Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images)
 

Team USA’s Popovich on loss to Nigeria: ‘I’m kind of glad it happened’

The last time Team USA battled Nigeria, it was not very close. Team USA defeated Nigeria 110-66 in an exhibition game back in 2016. In addition, Nigeria played the U.S. in its debut at the 2012 London Games and lost 156-73.

That was then; this is now. 

On Saturday night, Nigeria hit 20 threes, including 11/19 in the second half, to shock Team USA 90-87 in an exhibition game at Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Coming into this contest, the United States was 54-2 in exhibition games. 

Nigeria head coach Mike Brown, who currently serves as associate head coach for the Golden State Warriors under USA assistant coach Steve Kerr, had his team ready on Saturday night. Nigeria has seven players that are on NBA rosters, including the Miami Heat’s Gabe Vincent(Nnamdi), who led the team with 21 points.

It was a bad loss for the U.S., but according to Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich, this loss could be what this team needed.

“In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened,” Popovich said. “It means nothing if we don’t learn from it. It could be the most important thing in this tournament for us. To learn lessons from this.”

Nigeria outhustled and outrebounded Team USA and won the battle on the glass(46-34), which Popovich discussed after the game.

“Rebounding was a problem,” Popovich 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.”

Kevin Durant led Team USA with 17 points, and Jayson Tatum added 15 points.

Fortunately for Team USA, this was an exhibition game, so they have time to clean things up and get right for the Olympics.

The U.S. faces Australia, ranked third globally, in the second game of its pre-Olympic schedule on Monday night. 

Listen below as Popovich and Tatum discuss loss to Nigeria: