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

  • Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe

    After three long years, the wait for another Ryder Cup ends this week as the United States and Europe take to the fairways and greens of Whistling Straits. 

    Europe are the holders but the USA start as favourites for many observers, with home advantage and a formidable-looking team. 

    There will be shocks along the way and there will be some expected stars of the show who end up taking a back seat as unlikely heroes emerge. 

    Captains Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington will have their own ideas of who might be best placed to make a telling impression. 

    Here, Stats Perform looks at four players who could make a huge impact across the weekend in Wisconsin. 

    UNITED STATES: Super Spieth ready to show his teeth

    Jordan Spieth has been a resurgent force this year, finishing second at the Open Championship and in a tie for third at the Masters, while at the other two majors he finished a respectable 19th and 30th. 

    The American also ended a four-year wait for a victory on the PGA Tour with a sweet win in his home state at the Texas Open in April and is primed to cap a fine year with a strong Ryder Cup. 

    Spieth has mentioned in the build-up that he loves the course set-up at Whistling Straits, which he feels provides scoring opportunities on almost every hole. 

    The 28-year-old also referenced his previous Ryder Cup success. He has collected eight points from a possible 11 in fourballs/foursomes, a 73 per cent scoring rate. Only Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have a better ratio among USA players in the team format. 

    UNITED STATES: Nice guy Finau just the man for Stricker's superstars

    American teams in the past have been accused of…well…not exactly getting along. Having the ultimate good guy in the team is sure to boost morale and Tony Finau certainly fits that mould. 

    But make no mistake, Finau is a guy with real pedigree – even if sometimes he hasn't quite been able to convert that into wins (his triumph at the Northern Trust last month was only his second PGA Tour title and first in five years). 

    On his Ryder Cup debut, he was one of few bright notes for Team USA, with Finau winning two of his three matches – including a singles win over the otherwise unflappable Tommy Fleetwood, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the American team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five). 

    Moreover, at the 2015 US PGA Championship, Finau finished 10th having shot four sub-par rounds at Whistling Straits. Finau is the sort of character who can really flourish at a Ryder Cup, particularly with home support behind him. 

     

    EUROPE: Europe eye trophy Rahm raid

    Jon Rahm is the man for the big occasion. He is the only player to have secured a top-10 finish at all four majors this year, while he is also Europe's most recent victor at one of the leading events, having won the U.S. Open. 

    The world number one's Ryder Cup debut did not go entirely to plan in 2018, as he won only one of his three matches, but that triumph was in a singles match-up with Tiger Woods – only Tiger's second loss in the format. 

    Now established at the forefront of the sport, Rahm will expect to be the man to lead Europe to glory with an improved all-round showing, justifying his status as the bookmakers' favourite to be the leading points scorer at Whistling Straits. 

    EUROPE: Viktor sounds like a winner

    Belgium's Thomas Pieters was the top points scorer five years ago at Hazeltine, scoring four points but ending on the losing side. With Norway's Viktor Hovland relishing his debut on the team, could there be another surprise leader on the points board? 

    Hovland played college golf for Oklahoma State and has been a familiar figure on the PGA Tour, so playing in America is second nature. He was low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2019, won the U.S. Amateur, and has come of age since, jumping to a career-high world ranking of number 10 in August. 

    Eight top-10 finishes and just one missed cut since the turn of the year show what he brings, and that level of consistent play is bound to appeal to captain Harrington. 

    "I'd like to think I have some fans out there that maybe won't necessarily boo against us," Hovland said this week. "But if they do end up doing that, that's what they're going to do. We're still going to play golf, and if they do end up doing that, that means we're doing something good." 

  • Warriors owner Lacob fined $50k for Simmons comments Warriors owner Lacob fined $50k for Simmons comments

    The NBA fined Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob $50,000 for violating the team's anti-tampering rule following his comments about Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons.

    Simmons' future is dominating headlines after 76ers head coach Doc Rivers confirmed on Wednesday that the three-time All-Star wants to leave Philadelphia.

    The Warriors have emerged as a possible destination for Simmons since his forgettable 2020-21 playoff campaign with the 76ers.

    But Lacob cast doubt over a Simmons trade during an interview, prompting a sanction from the NBA.

    "In some ways, it doesn't really fit what we're doing," Lacob told the San Francisco Chronicle.

    "He makes a lot of money. And, can he finish games? I don't know. He's very talented. The problem is: We have Draymond [Green].

    "Draymond and him are very similar in the sense that neither one really shoots and they do a lot of the playmaking. That's one issue. The salary structure is another."

     

    Rivers, midweek, told ESPN the 76ers will try to convince Simmons to stay with the franchise amid trade talk.

    Simmons and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers.

    Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star.

    Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It is the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

    Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

  • 76ers and Doc Rivers want to convince Ben Simmons to stay amid trade talk 76ers and Doc Rivers want to convince Ben Simmons to stay amid trade talk

    Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said the championship contenders will try to convince Ben Simmons to stay after confirming the disgruntled All-Star wants to leave the NBA franchise.

    Rivers was speaking on Wednesday, in response to reports Simmons told the 76ers he will not attend training camp next week and does not plan to play for the team again.

    It comes after Simmons' forgettable playoff campaign with the 76ers last season – the 25-year-old Australian failed to impress in the shock Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

    Amid reported interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, Rivers discussed Simmons' future in Philadelphia.

    "I mean it was a good conversation," Rivers told ESPN when asked if Simmons had made it known that he wanted out of Philadelphia.

    "He gave his reasons, which we obviously didn't agree with. But you know, in sports, there's been so many times this has happened that hasn't been reported and the guy comes back.

    "Listen, we're going to go through it, we're going to always do what's best for the team, but I can tell you up front, we would love to get Ben back.

    "And if we can, we're going to try to do that. You know, Ben has a long contract. It's in our hands and we want him back."

     

    A three-time All-Star and elite defender, Simmons and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers.

    Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star.

    Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It is the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

    Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

    Rivers also tried to clarify comments he made following Philadelphia's elimination at the hands of the Hawks in June.

    After the 76ers' failed run at a first NBA title since 1983, Rivers was asked if he thought Simmons could be a guard on a championship team, and he replied: "I don't know the answer to that right now."

    On Wednesday, Rivers said: "I want to correct that. I would love you guys to play what I said, because, and I've told you this before Stephen A. [Smith], I never said what was reported.

    "The question was asked about Ben, it was the first question after we just lost Game 7, my answer was, 'I'm not answering any of that stuff right now guys, I don't even know how to answer that.' That had nothing to do what's about Ben, I was basically just saying, 'I'm not answering that crap, those questions.'

    "It was being portrayed that I was out there saying I don't think we can win with Ben, and I do. I told Ben that the next day. What really disappointed me was the next day I went on and said, 'Guys, y'all knew exactly what I was talking about,' and no one heard it.

    "They just kept running their narrative. I've been in sports a long time, and I'm not misrepresented very often, but in that case, I was. But it is what it is. Ben knows, [agent] Rich [Paul] knows, and I know."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.