Tokyo Olympics: Lillard says Team USA shock loss will be received 'like the end of the world'

By Sports Desk July 25, 2021

Damian Lillard predicted Team USA's stunning defeat to France at the Tokyo Olympics would be portrayed as "the end of the world" but vowed the gold medal was still a target.

The Portland Trail Blazers star was one of a host of under-performing players in blue as Gregg Popovich's team were beaten 83-76 at the Saitama Super Arena.

France's shock win meant the US team's 25-game winning streak in men's basketball at the Olympics came to an end, raising doubts about their ability to challenge for glory at these Games.

Exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria ahead of the Olympics getting underway were red flags, but most expected the Americans to find match-winning form once the stakes were raised.

"I think we have a history of dominance and, maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning," Lillard said.

"It's not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start. So, I think that's why a lot of people make it seem like the end of the world.

"But our job as professionals and this team, representing our country in these Olympics, we got to do what's necessary, and we still can accomplish what we came here to accomplish, and we got to make sure we keep that in mind."

 

Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics starred with 28 points for France.

Fournier began the 2020-21 NBA season with the Orlando Magic and averaged 19.7 points per game, before that figure dropped to 13.0 for his outings with the Celtics following a trade in March.

Here he served up a reminder of how he can perform, and the US opposition suffered.

Lillard, who made just three of his 10 field-goal attempts, said: "You know who we see each night sometimes in the NBA, they are completely different when they play for their countries.

"They got more freedom, and the comfort level is obvious. So we put ourselves in a dogfight, and they made plays to win it."

Kevin Durant called it "a make-or-miss game".

"And we didn't hit the shots that we were supposed to late in the game in the fourth quarter, but I think we will be better next game," Durant, who scored 10 points, added.

There are Group A games to come for the Americans against the Czech Republic and Iran, and those could allow Durant, Lillard and co to find form ahead of the knock-out rounds.

Team USA have won the last three gold medals at the Olympics, and Bam Adebayo, who scored 12 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds, pointed to French desire for a slice of such glory as being a telling factor on Sunday.

"You can definitely tell they're tired of the USA winning," Adebayo said. "Everybody wants that feeling of getting that gold medal. And we can't rely on talent all the time to just bring us home."

Related items

  • Durant confident Irving situation will resolve itself amid Nets ban Durant confident Irving situation will resolve itself amid Nets ban

    Kevin Durant is confident a resolution can be found amid Kyrie Irving's refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 that is preventing him practising or playing with the Brooklyn Nets.

    New York City has a mandate in place, which states NBA players must have had a jab to protect against coronavirus.

    Irving stated this week he is neither pro nor anti-vaccination and has respect for both sides of the argument, but as yet he has not had at least one shot, which is the minimum required for him to play home games at the Barclays Center and in fixtures at Madison Square Garden where the New York Knicks play.

    The Nets decided Irving will have no involvement with the team until he complies with the rules, but Durant – who joined alongside his team-mate as a free agent in 2019 – is optimistic a resolution will be found.

    Speaking after the Nets completed their pre-season duties with a 107-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Durant said: "I definitely want Kyrie to be around.

    "I wish none of this stuff would happen, but this is the situation that we are in. Kyrie made his decision on what he wanted to do and he chose to do what he wanted to do, and the team did the same.

    "It's on me to just focus on me, and do my job, and let those two parties handle that situation. I want our whole team together, and I want us to be at full strength, but sometimes it don't work out that way. But I am still positive that things will work out the best for both parties."

    Durant is not upset over Irving's decision, though he acknowledged the situation is not ideal for a star-studded Nets team with championship aspirations.

    "We still get to do [what] we love to do every day. This is not the ideal situation coming into the season but some of this, it's out of our control," he added.

    "So, what we can do is come in and focus on our jobs every single day. What is being mad going to do?

    "We are not going to change his mind, know what I'm saying? We'll let him figure out what he needs to do and the team figure out what they need to do.

    "I can't be too mad at somebody making a decision for themselves.

    "Who am I to get upset at that? Just focus on what we got in this locker room. When [Irving] is ready, I am sure he will talk to [team owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks] and they'll figure it out and they'll tell us. Until then we are going to keep grinding."

  • Pelicans star Zion Williamson to miss start of NBA season with foot injury Pelicans star Zion Williamson to miss start of NBA season with foot injury

    New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will miss the start of the NBA regular season due to a right foot injury.

    Pelicans vice-president of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed Williamson's absence after the former number one draft pick underwent scans earlier this week following offseason foot surgery.

    Griffin was unable to provide a "fixed timeline" on Williamson's return to play, although he said the 2021 All-Star would undergo further scans in roughly a fortnight's time.

    "It's everyone's goal that Zion return to play as soon as safely possible," Griffin said on Thursday.

    "Obviously, two to two-and-a-half weeks from now means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games. When he is able to return safely, we will do that."

    The Pelicans are due to start their NBA season against championship-hopefuls the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

    Williamson, who had said last month he hoped to play in the Pelicans' opening game, has been cleared to start running and do individual on-court work.

    Griffin clarified Williamson had not suffered a setback and no timeline had been set on the 21-year-old joining in more training activities.

    "It just takes a certain amount of time for guys to lay the bone that the doctors want to see," Griffin said. "This is where our timeline is.

    "Throughout the process, we'll be heading toward that [joining team training]. It may be well before the two-and-a-half weeks that he does that. It's really just a function of how things progress."

    Williamson averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game across 61 appearances in the 2020-21 NBA season for the Pelicans.

    The top pick in the 2019 draft, Williamson had only managed 24 games in his debut season, averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 2019-20.

  • Irving standing by vaccine decision but has no retirement plans amid Nets ban Irving standing by vaccine decision but has no retirement plans amid Nets ban

    Kyrie Irving reiterated he will stand by his decision to remain unvaccinated after the Brooklyn Nets confirmed the NBA All-Star will not play until he receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

    Irving has not been vaccinated and is therefore ineligible to play in home games with the championship-chasing Nets due to New York City mandates.

    Nets general manager Sean Marks confirmed on Tuesday that the franchise will not accept Irving playing on a part-time basis and thus overlook him for selection until he is vaccinated.

    Irving, who is part of the Nets 'big three' alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden, broke his silence via social media on Wednesday, stating he will not change his stance leaving him in limbo.

    "I'm standing with all those that believe in what is right and are doing what is right for themselves," Irving said in an Instagram Live. "Everybody has a personal choice with their lives. Everybody is entitled to do what they feel is what's best for themselves.

    "Seeing the way this is dividing our world up, being vaccinated or unvaccinated. It's sad to see. It's creating a lot of division.

    "Don't believe that I'm retiring or I'm going to give up this game for a vaccine mandate, don't believe any of that."

    Irving stressed that he had no ill feeling towards the Nets nor his team-mates, explaining that his decision was in the interests of him and his family.

    "I'm not going to sit here to give you information or wisdom beyond my years, I'm here just to stay real and true to me," he said. "It's my life, I get to do whatever I want with this, I get one body.

    "You're telling me what to do with my body. It has nothing to do with the organisation. I'm going to put that out there, it has nothing to do with the Nets or my team-mates. This has everything to do with what's going in our world, I'm being grouped in with something's that's bigger than a game of basketball."

    He added: "It's not being anti-vax. It's not about being one side or the other. It's about what feels good to me. I'm feeling uncertain about a lot of things and that's OK. If I'm going to be demonised for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, that's just what it is.

    "I know the consequences of the decision I make with my life. I'm not here to sugarcoat any of that. It's crazy times that we're in… I haven't hurt anybody. I haven't committed a crime. I'm not out here acting dumb or stupid. I'm out here looking after my family and kids.

    "If you choose to get the vaccine, I support you. Do what's best for you. I continue to pray for all those out there who have lost people to the pandemic to COVID."

    Irving said he had not anticipated that he would be mandated to be vaccinated ahead of the new NBA season which starts for the Nets against defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

    "What would you do, if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you'd have exemptions or you wouldn't be forced to have to get the vaccine," he said.

    "This wasn't an issue before the season started. This wasn't something that I foresaw coming and I could prepare for it and I could strategise on what would be best for me and my family. I came into this season thinking I was going to be able to play ball."

    In 2020-21, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Bucks. 

    Irving enjoyed a career-high 50.6 field-goal percentage and joint-career best 92.2 free-throw percentage last season.

    It has been reported Irving, who will not be paid for missed home games, will not be offered a contract extension by the Nets.

    Irving added: "You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to just give up my job? You think I want to sit at home and not go after the things with my team-mates that I've been able to grow with and learn with?"

Popular Athletics News

Error: No articles to display

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.