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.
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