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US men’s basketball team bounce back from Olympics opening loss and beat Iran 120-66

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SAITAMA, Japan – Everyone loves a blowout, but this one for the United States men’s basketball team had added value, cleaning up the palace as it kicks off a must-see series of Olympic games from Tokyo.

The Americans crushed Iran 120-66 Wednesday afternoon for their first Olympic victory. A Saturday win over the Czech Republic will give them a spot in the medal round next week, although that huge margin of victory gives the United States a chance to keep moving forward even if they suffer another loss to the Czechs.

It was difficult to gauge the kind of improvement the Americans made, as the Iranians were outclassed and just couldn’t keep up with the waves of talent. But there were some clues about the adjustments made by coach Gregg Popovich following a loss to France on Sunday that could last.

First, Popovich changed his starting lineup and inserted Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker, who had come off the bench against France after traveling after the NBA Finals.

This led to better balance and faster training, with the Americans racking up 19 points of quick braking in the first half alone. The speed knocked the Iranians off balance and led to a flood of open fire.

After being only 10 of 32 at 3 points against France, this shooting-based team won on Wednesday. Damian Lillard, who had shot the ball below his norm since joining the squad, broke and lost seven points to 3 points as he scored 21 points. When Lillard unleashed a deep shot far beyond the arc – his hallmark – in the opening minutes of the game, his pace was evident.

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“Being at the hotel, at meals and on the training ground and just talking after that loss, we got together,” said Lillard. “It’s time to start looking like Team USA.”

In total, six different players scored multiple 3-pointers as the United States racked up 19 out of 39 tries in the type of game the Americans had anticipated when building the roster. Booker, taking advantage of the start, scored 16 points to go with five rebounds. Jayson Tatum finished with 14 points and Zach LaVine 13 to facilitate the offensive exit.

“Each of these guys scores 20 or 25 points for their team; we can’t play like that, and so we don’t,” Popovich said. “Everyone in a sense is a role player now; we don’t need heroes.”

In the first game, Popovich had experimented with starting his two main crosses, Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green, with the goal of having five creators on the pitch so any player could start the offense. It didn’t work against France, who took it as an invitation to play big, and it reduced the American offensive in the half court.

This time the concept was to play more traditionally to create that offensive pace by simply passing the slower Iranians. And that’s exactly what the Americans have done, pushing the pace of misfires and turnovers.

“[Playing with two big men] maybe it blocked us offensively a bit, ”said Kevin Durant, who finished with 10 points. “Tonight I played 4 and was able to stretch the floor a little bit and give the guys space, and we were able to gain confidence and knock back a few shots.”

This is the traditional way Team USA has played at the Olympics, deploying 10 or even 11 man rotations and knocking down their opponents, all made possible by liberal substitutions to trade breathless stars with more depth. ‘stars.

But the Americans couldn’t do much, even in their four exhibition games two weeks ago in Las Vegas, because they didn’t have their entire squad; those players they had weren’t in good shape after taking time off after the NBA season just ended.

This left games slower with a half court attack, which required more organization and chemistry. These are things that Team USA didn’t have the luxury to develop, and it left the Americans to look behind a lot of their opponents, especially the French and their deeper history of playing together.

The grinding gears – with Popovich calling for more and more ball movement from the bench – seemed to make some players uncomfortable. Several times in the game against France, great shooters missed shots as they looked to try and stick to an unfamiliar system, instead of shooting like so many of them are used to doing. in their NBA teams.

Usually, this would be a short-term problem and the reps would fix it; it is not the sign of a faulty system or rebellious actors. But Team USA doesn’t have the luxury of time, and there hasn’t been a chance to establish any comfort zone; Popovich was forced to change his starting lineup almost every game.

“We were a little too selfless at the start and that bit us,” Durant said. “Tonight the guys came out super aggressive. It might look bad when the shots don’t come in, but we’ve always had good intentions since we got together.”

It remains to be seen whether this faster, more freestyle pattern will last. This team was difficult to predict, but the positive results relieved some pressure.

After Wednesday’s game, Popovich greeted and spoke with Iranian coach Mehran Shahintab and complimented his team’s fundamentals. The players shook hands. It is rare that the United States and Iran, often separated on political issues, share the same playing field.

“People from different countries get along much better than their governments,” Popovich said. “The Olympics are a time and place where sport transcends all that little bullshit.

“We just wish it was real life.”

Hamed Haddadi, who played four seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, led Iran with 15 points.

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2/ https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/31902328/us-men-basketball-team-bounces-back-loss-defeats-iran-120-66

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