After falling flat offensively late in the fourth quarter against France in their opening loss at the Olympics, the USA men’s basketball team took out their frustrations of their early struggles on Iran on Wednesday morning in Tokyo, bludgeoning the Iranian squad in what eventually became a 120-66 win.
It wasn’t a surprising result — the Americans were favored by more than 40 points — but they out-performed even those lofty expectations from the sportsbooks in what was the ultimate “get right” spot against an overwhelmed Iran side. Damian Lillard led the way for Team USA with 21 points, 18 of which came in the first half as he caught fire from deep, going 7-for-13 from beyond the arc for all of his points. At the break, Team USA led 60-30 and it was simply a matter of how much they would win by, and the answer was “a lot” as they ran it up to the final whistle, clearly a touch frustrated with Iran’s consistent ball pressure to the final whistle.
In total, six Americans finished in double figures, with Devin Booker (16), Jayson Tatum (14), Zach LaVine (13), Khris Middleton (10), and Kevin Durant (10) all getting themselves going on a night where, as a team, the USA shot 55 percent from the field and 49 percent from long range. Durant’s performance moved him within five points of Carmelo Anthony for the most points by an American in the Olympics all-time, as he will cement his status as a Team USA legend as this tournament wears on.
Kevin Durant watch. 👀
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 28, 2021
Iran simply didn’t have the size or firepower to keep up with the USA, but it was still a much more engaged effort from top to bottom for the squad even considering the massive talent gap. Former NBA-er Hamed Haddadi led Iran with 14 points and six rebounds, using his size advantage inside, but they just could not get much going offensively against the speed and length of the USA defense otherwise.
For the USA, it was the needed performance. An underwhelming win would’ve only furthered questions about this team’s cohesion, and they showed a much better attention to detail on both ends — helped by a scorching hot shooting night. After the game, Lillard spoke about how he personally felt like he changed his mindset to be more assertive rather than trying not to step on any toes in the opener, a difference that was apparent across the roster as the USA seemed far more decisive on offense.
"In the first game I felt like I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t aggressive, passing up shots, trying too hard to do the right thing. And that’s not what we here for. We here to dominate and be winners and represent our country the right way." — @Dame_Lillard
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) July 28, 2021
Next up is a game with the Czech Republic, with a guaranteed berth in the next round up for grabs, and that will be a much sterner test, albeit one Team USA is expected to pass comfortably. We’ll see how much of their improvement against Iran they can carry over to that game, but at least for a few days they can enjoy some positive vibes coming off a dominant win, which is oddly a rarity this month.