July 18, 2021 - 10:02 pm
The U.S. men’s national basketball team’s challenging Las Vegas stint is over.
But it’s leaving with a little momentum.
Team USA beat Spain 83-76 on Sunday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in its final tuneup for the Tokyo Olympics to improve to 2-2 during exhibition play in Las Vegas.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard led Team USA with 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting. San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson came off the bench and scored 15.
Johnson, a role player surrounded by stars, scored 10 in the third quarter to help the Americans surge ahead. He said his performance was exactly what he’s trying to achieve with the team.
“I’m here to be that energy guy,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to bring some kind of energy, some kind of spark so we could get over the hump.”
It was an arduous week for the Americans, who lost their first two exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia. They were 54-2 in exhibitions before coming to Las Vegas for training camp. It was the first time the national team had lost back-to-back exhibition games since 1992, when professionals began playing.
The struggles continued off the court, too. The team lost one of its top players — Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards — because of coronavirus health and safety protocols. Detroit Pistons wing Jerami Grant also was subject to the protocols “out of an abundance of caution,” according to USA Basketball officials.
Grant returned for Sunday’s game.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love withdrew from the team last week because of a right calf injury that hampered him during the NBA season. Beal and Love were replaced by Johnson and JaVale McGee, who most recently played for the Denver Nuggets.
The U.S.’s exhibition game Friday against Australia was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
Despite the mediocre showing in Las Vegas, Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said he’s encouraged by the team’s improvement.
“We understand how we want to play, what we have to do with this group of people and what we have to do offensively and defensively,” Popovich said. “So they’ve come a long way in a short period of time. And that’s what is inspiring and keeps me very excited about the whole group. But they still have a long way to go.”
Team USA opens Olympic play July 25 against France.