Nigeria down star-studded US team 90-87 in exhibition ahead of Olympics
This is not how USA Basketball expected to open its Olympic summer. Nigeria probably did not expect it, either.
If there was any expectation of invincibility for the Americans heading into the Tokyo Olympics, it is already gone — after Nigeria beat the US 90-87 on Saturday night, an international shocker pulled off by a roster primarily filled by little-known NBA players that found a way to beat a group of All-NBA, All-Star and max-contract performers.
“We just wanted to compete,” said Nigeria’s Gabe Nnamdi, who goes by Gabe Vincent when playing for the Miami Heat. “We know what USA Basketball means around the world and what they’ve stood for so long.”
The US had lost 11 games before Saturday in major international play — Olympics and World Cups, mostly — since NBA players began filling the US 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 threes,” US 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 US 60-30 from three-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.
“Just goes to show that we have to play better,” Tatum said.
The Americans had gone 39-0 in their past 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.
Plus, they had beaten Nigeria by a combined 127 points in their past two meetings, one at the 2012 London Games, the other a warmup for the 2016 Rio Games.
Nigeria lost to the US at the 2012 Olympics by 83 points. Lost to the US again four years later in an exhibition, that time by 44 points.
“Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said.
Ike Iroegbu — a former Washington State player who also played in the G League — hit a three-pointer with about 1 minute, 15 seconds left to put Nigeria up 88-80. Durant scored the next seven points for the US; a three-pointer, two free throws following a turnover, then two more from the line with 16.5 seconds remaining.
Nnamdi made two foul shots with 13.2 seconds left to restore Nigeria’s three-point edge. The US ran 9.7 seconds off the clock on the ensuing possession without scoring, and Zach LaVine missed a pair of free throws — the second intentionally — with 3.5 seconds left.
Precious Achiuwa got the rebound for Nigeria, and that was it. It is only an exhibition — but the upset was still of the massive variety, the 22nd-ranked nation by FIBA beating the No. 1 team and three-time reigning Olympic gold medalists.
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.”