Nigeria shocks US basketball team 90-87 in pre-Olympic opener
The U.S. men’s basketball team was upset by Nigeria on Saturday evening in its first exhibition game ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, a stunning outcome even if the effects are more symbolic than likely to affect America’s eventual gold medal hopes.
Nigeria defeated a Team U.S.A. roster stacked with All-N.B.A. players,
90-87, at Mandalay Bay Arena in Las Vegas. It was the first win by an
African team over the U.S. men’s national team.
The U.S. had lost 11 games before Saturday in major international play — Olympics and World Cups, mostly — since NBA players began filling the American rosters with the first Dream Team in 1992. None of those losses came against a team from Africa.
“I thought that the Nigerian team played very physically, did a great job in that regard and knocked down a lot of 3s," U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “Give them credit."
Nnamdi led Nigeria with 21 points. Caleb Agada scored 17 points, Ike Nwamu added 13 and Nigeria outscored the U.S. 60-30 from 3-point range.
Kevin Durant, who had never before played in a loss for USA Basketball in 39 senior international games, had 17 points. Jayson Tatum added 15, Damian Lillard had 14 and Bam Adebayo 11.
The Americans had gone 39-0 in their last three Olympic seasons — including pre-Olympic exhibitions — on their way to gold medals and had been 54-2 in major exhibitions since NBA players began playing for USA Basketball in 1992.
They’d beaten Nigeria by a combined 127 points in their last two meetings, one at the 2012 London Games, the other a warm-up for the 2016 Rio Games.
Nigeria lost to the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics by 83 points. Lost to the Americans again four years later in an exhibition, that time by 44 points.
Not this time.
“Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said.
Popovich heard the final buzzer and shook hands with Nigeria coach Mike Brown, the Golden State assistant, as the Americans walked off stunned.
“At the end of the day, it doesn't mean much in the standings as far as where we're trying to get to," Brown said. “But it's a good win for us. I don't think any African team has been able to beat USA Basketball in an exhibition game or a real game. ... We're trying to get a little bit of momentum for Nigeria and for the continent of Africa."
Nigeria’s Chimezie Metu had a brilliant play in the third quarter — committing what would be goaltending in the NBA. Durant was taking a free throw, and as his shot bounced on the rim Metu reached up and knocked the shot away. That’s a legal play under FIBA rules.