Analysts are looking at Team USA’s recent 10-point victory over Australia as a real eye-opening moment in this year’s Summer Olympic Games, as the Boomers dismantled Team USA’s defense at times. There have been a slew of articles calling it the closest thing to a loss Team USA has experienced since that frightful bronze medal team back in 2004, but that’s not necessarily true.
The truth is that there have been plenty of close calls for Team USA in the 24 years since professionals were allowed to represent their country. While it’s true that six of the 10 tightest games the United States Olympic Men’s Basketball Team ever played came in 2004, there have been four others that came pretty close to disaster as well. That Australia game wasn’t one of them.
Here’s a look at the 10 most daunting games the United States has experienced since 1992:
September 21, 2000 – United States 85, Lithuania 76 (Group A) – One theme readers will notice throughout this list is that Lithuania is heavily involved in a lot of the closest games the United States has ever played in the modern Olympics, but this one was especially shocking because no opposing team in either 1992 or 1996 ever came anywhere near this close to beating Team USA. It was the first single-digit win since professionals were allowed back into international competition, and at that point the second-closest game ever was decided by 22 points. It also was the lowest-scoring game by any Dream Team at that time, so people were understandably concerned. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the closest game the U.S. would face in those Olympics, and the real nail-biter came in a much more important game.
August 26, 2004 – United States 102, Spain 94 (Quarter-Finals) – A lot of positive things came out of this game, especially considering the dismal tournament Team USA had experienced up to that point in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. For starters, they did topple an unbeaten Spain team in tournament play, and Stephon Marbury also broke the record for most points in a game by an American with 31 (including a record six three-pointers). Marbury shot 6-for-30 in the Olympics leading up to that point, so it was a nice turnaround. Unfortunately, the next game wouldn’t end quite so successfully for Marbury and Team USA.
August 28, 2004 – United States 104, Lithuania 96 (Bronze Medal Game) – Coming off a disappointing loss in the Semi-Finals, Team USA rebounded to eke out a bronze medal victory over Lithuania in what head coach Larry Brown said was “probably the hardest game I’ve ever been involved in, and I’m sure it was the same way for the players.” The team finished 5-3 that year and clearly did not have enough time to gel properly in advance of those games. Following the tournament, Tim Duncan said, “It has not been fun. I’m about 95 percent sure my FIBA career is over.” When asked what he learned from the experience, he just said, “FIBA sucks.” If Duncan wasn’t happy, you can bet your bottom dollar nobody else on that team was either.
August 12, 2012 – United States 107, Spain 100 (Gold Medal Game) – After three quarters in what would be the closest gold medal game Team USA would ever play, the Americans found themselves up by only a single point. But thanks to some LeBron James magic down the stretch, the Americans were able to pull away and make sure they solidified their legacy as one of the most impressive Team USA rosters ever. They proved themselves better than Spain for the second Olympics in a row; but for the second Olympics in a row, their margin of victory wasn’t a big one.
August 17, 2004 – United States 77, Greece 71 (Group B) – The only reason Greece even had a spot in those Olympics was because Athens was the host city, yet Team USA only beat them by six two days after taking their first (and largest) loss in Olympic history. They played hard in that game too, but the crowd was deafening and the team just didn’t work well together. It was a hot mess, frankly, and squeaking out a victory against a bad team that early in Olympic play just didn’t bode well for Team USA.
August 4, 2012 – United States 99, Lithuania 94 (Group A) – Perhaps Team USA was just tired from putting an 83-point whomping on Nigeria just a couple of nights before, but they found themselves involved in a nail biter with—who else?—Lithuania as a follow-up to their legendary win. Through three quarters, at least, it stayed close. While Lithuania tried to pluck away a lead in the fourth, the Americans had an answer for everything. The score was close, but by the fourth quarter the game wasn’t really in doubt. As far as close games go, this one never really felt out of hand.
September 29, 2000 – United States 85, Lithuania 83 (Semi-Finals) – Never has there been a narrower victory for Team USA, and it’s one that could have ended differently had Lithuanian point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds. He had been hot all night long, but air-balled his most important shot of the game. Still, they took away the mystique of that year’s Dream Team in the close loss, though it didn’t stop them from winning gold in the days that followed.
August 21, 2004 – United States 90, Lithuania 94 (Group B) – No Olympic team since the 1992 Dream Team has lost a game except for the 2004 squad, and they did it three times. The first was plenty embarrassing on its own, but the second was just as disappointing. Jasikevicius didn’t choke in 2004 like he did in 2000, with three straight three-pointers late in the fourth quarter and one that eventually turned into a four-point play to put the Lithuanians up for good. Team USA played maybe their best game of the tournament up to that point, but shot only 22-for-33 from the free-throw line and lost by four. Coaches aren’t kidding when they say the little things matter.
August 27, 2004 – United States 81, Argentina 89 (Semi-Finals) – “I saw their roster and I knew we’d beat them,” said Manu Ginobili ahead of the 2004 Summer Games, and it turns out he was right. Argentina is the only team since 1992 to beat Team USA in actual tournament play. Ginobili scored 29 points in that game, leading a much more tightly-knit Argentinian team over the dysfunctional Americans and keeping them from the gold medal for the first time since 1988.
August 15, 2004 – United States 73, Puerto Rico 92 (Group B) – In the first game for Team USA in the 2004 Summer Olympics, they completely embarrassed themselves, losing to an inferior Puerto Rican team by a shocking 19 points. This was a team that featured Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, but it didn’t matter. Carlos Arroyo poured in 24 points and helped show how busted this Team USA group really was. It remains the worst loss for Team USA in the history of Olympic basketball.
Yes, the Australia game was an eye-opener, but it’s not as dire as we think. There have been many games that have been much worse for Team USA over the course of the last 20 years. Hopefully there won’t be any more in the immediate future that prove quite so dramatic.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.