LAS VEGAS (AP) – This is not how USA Basketball planned to open its Olympic summer.
Nigeria probably wasn’t expecting it either.
If there was an unbeaten expectation for the Americans ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, it’s already gone – after Nigeria shocked the United States 90-87 on Saturday night.
Nigeria managed an international clash with a roster mostly made up of little-known NBA players who found a way to beat a group of All-NBA, All-Star and max-contract artists.
“I thought the Nigerian team played very physically, did a great job in that regard and knocked down a lot of 3s,” said USA coach Gregg Popovich. “Give them credit”.
Gabe Nnamdi, who passed through Gabe Vincent when playing for the Miami Heat, led Nigeria with 21 points. Caleb Agada scored 17 points, Ike Nwamu added 13 and Nigeria topped the United States 60-30 by a 3-point range.
Kevin Durant, who had never played in a loss for USA Basketball in 39 senior international games, had 17 points. Jayson Tatum added 15, Damian Lillard 14 and Bam Adebayo 11.
“It’s just to show that we need to play better,” Tatum said.
The Americans were 39-0 in their last three Olympic seasons – including pre-Olympic shows – en route to gold medals and were 54-2 in major shows since the players NBA players started playing for USA Basketball in 1992. In addition, they’ve beaten Nigeria by a total of 127 points in their last two encounters, one at the London 2012 Games and the other in a warm-up for the Rio 2016 Games.
Nigeria lost to the United States in the 2012 Olympics by 83 points. Lost again to the Americans four years later in one show, this time by 44 points.
Not this time.
“Nigeria has come a long way with its basketball,” said USA Basketball chief executive Jerry Colangelo.
Ike Iroegbu – a former Washington state player who played for some time in the G League – scored a 3-point score with around 1:15 to go to put Nigeria at 88-80. Durant scored the next seven points for the United States; a 3-point, two free throws following a turnaround, then two more from the line 16.5 seconds from the end.
Nnamdi took two free kicks with 13.2 seconds left to put Nigeria back to 3 points. The Americans were 9.7 seconds behind the subsequent possession without shooting, and Zach LaVine missed a pair of free throws – the second intentionally – with 3.5 seconds left.
Precious Achiuwa got the rebound for Nigeria, and that’s it. It was only a demonstration, but the upheaval was always of great variety, with the 22nd-ranked nation by FIBA beating the No.1-ranked team and the reigning three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Popovich heard the final bell and shook hands with Nigerian coach Mike Brown, Golden State’s assistant, as the Americans walked away in amazement.
There was an injury scare for the Americans at the end of the second quarter, when LaVine was injured on a game where he ended against Nnamdi. He flew off after a head feint and climbed down awkwardly, grabbing his left ankle before getting up and heading straight to the US locker room.
LaVine was doing well and came back in the third quarter.
The biggest fear was the dashboard. Nigeria were only 43-41 down at halftime, leading for long stretches of the first 20 minutes and simply not leaving.