USA Basketball's road to Tokyo has started with a flat tire. More specifically, it started with one of the biggest upsets in recent international basketball history.
The American men's team — headlined by NBA stars such as Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal — fell 90-87 to Nigeria in its first of five exhibition games before the Olympics in Tokyo. It goes without saying that USA was the overwhelming favorite entering the game.
It is only the team's third exhibition loss since the Dream Team in 1992.
Nigeria rode a torrent of 3-pointers to victory, making 20 attempts from deep to shock the overwhelming gold medal favorites. While the American team featured NBA All-Stars throughout its rotation, Nigeria had the likes of Precious Achiuwa and Gabe Vincent of the Miami Heat and Chimezie Metu of the Sacramento Kings, all headlined by former Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown.
The Nigerians, ranked 22nd in the FIBA world basketball rankings, weren't without talent though, as Durant found when he drove on Achiuwa.
That's a marked difference from when the Americans met Nigeria nine years ago, a 156-73 USA win.
Should Team USA be worried?
There's obviously little excuse for Team USA to lose the game, even if NBA superstars such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry opted against playing for the team in Tokyo. Any international team with Durant, Lillard, Beal, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green and Zach LaVine is going to be expected to run roughshod over its opponent.
The loss is also an ominous sign considering what happened last time the country lost an exhibition. The 2019 FIBA World Cup USA team lost to Australia in a massive upset for one of its tune-up games, then went on to finish seventh in the World Cup due to losses to France and Serbia. That team featured a lower talent level, but with the same coach in Gregg Popovich.
Team USA will get a chance to shake off the blow against, of all teams, Australia on Monday, with three more games against Argentina, Australia again and Spain before the Tokyo Games begin.
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