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Graney: Team USA rinses bad taste with blowout of Argentina

Updated July 13, 2021 - 7:56 pm

Last rites for Team USA basketball haven’t been recited.

Pump the brakes on ordering a headstone.

The Americans finally posted a result on the ledger’s positive side Tuesday, beating Argentina 108-80 in the third of five exhibition games at Michelob Ultra Arena before the team departs for the Olympics in Tokyo.

The win didn’t totally erase consecutive defeats to Nigeria and Australia — I mean, what could? — but at least for an afternoon produced good karma for a U.S. side that hasn’t been overflowing with any lately.

“Our biggest thing is that we have to realize this isn’t the NBA,” said U.S. guard Bradley Beal, who scored 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting. “It’s more physical. Guys are smarter. They have the experience and chemistry we’re trying to develop in a short period of time.

“A sense of urgency is what we’re preaching, but, at the same time, we have to get better every single day. That’s how we’re taking it. Today, we got better.”

Cry for me …

Now, this is hardly the Golden Generation of Argentina basketball.

Forget about Eva Peron. If there are any tears being shed south of the equator, it’s for how Argentina has lost a step after securing its place for so long as the best national team its part of the world offered.

But none of that mattered to the Americans. Not after how this exhibition schedule began, sending media and fans alike to all points of research and conjecture about what is wrong with the U.S. side and if it has any chance to win a fourth straight Olympic gold medal. It does. Still a good one.

The cliche has finally come to fruition. After years of hearing the rest of the world was catching up to Team USA, it’s more and more factual.

What it means: Even when the Americans don’t send a team of their absolute best NBA players to an Olympics — and they won’t to Tokyo — they’ll still have the most talented roster. They should still capture gold.

It just becomes harder to do so.

Team USA coach Gregg Popovich was mistaken when disagreeing with a reporter Monday about how dominant the program has been. Since the original Dream Team swallowed its competition whole in 1992, the Americans have won by an average of 20 points or more in all but two international competitions.

Popovich’s math needs work, but he’s correct in that this latest version won’t run through Tokyo.

We’re a lifetime from opposing players asking for pictures and autographs from U.S. players once beaten down by them. For so long, those on other national teams said they had the ability to beat the Americans but never really believed it.

They do now. They have.

“We picked these guys for a reason,” Popovich said of his team. “We have guys willing to sacrifice for teammates and to get over themselves and respect that the guy to their right and left are just as talented. We’re trying to do our best to come together as a group. This game was better. We’re going to continue to work like we need to.”

They were motivated Tuesday. Probably had heard often in the previous 72 hours or so how disjointed they appeared. How they have far too many score-first guards and no true playmaker. How undersized they are. How there were more misses than hits from those who built the roster.

Could be worse

The Americans actually over-passed early against Argentina, as if to force the issue of making plays for others. It led to sloppy play at times. But only winning mattered for the U.S.

That was a bad taste to rid themselves of.

Look. Things always can be worse. The U.S. didn’t even qualify a men’s team in three-on-three basketball for Tokyo. The Americans were eliminated in qualifying by the Netherlands, which I’m fairly certain won with athletes borrowed from its soccer, volleyball and cycling teams.

The Netherlands have never qualified five-on-five, so there is a bright side to all this sky-is-falling sentiment in regard to Popovich’s side.

It can’t possibly lose to the Dutch.

Onward and upward.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.