While it may not count in the win-loss column, Team Nigeria just pulled off one of the more shocking victories in international basketball history.
Team USA and Team Nigeria met in Las Vegas Saturday night for the first of five exhibition contests before heading to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics at the end of the month. Despite walking into the game as the heavy favorites, the new Team USA group struggled to gain any real ground on a young and energetic Team Nigeria. Guards Gabe Vincent and Caleb Agada helped guide Nigeria with 21 and 17 points, respectively, and the team knocked down a total of 21 three-pointers.
For Nigeria, this was a statement victory that put their country on the map. For the US, it was a major wake-up call. While I still expect the team to head into the Olympics as the favorite to win gold, this will remind everyone involved that there is no competition you can take lightly on the world stage. Not even when you’re favored by nearly 30 points.
Tonight was only an exhibition … but try telling that to @NigeriaBasket. An absolutely massive moment for African basketball.
Twenty-one 3s, Miami's Gabe Vincent plays huge and a historic win for Coach Mike Brown over Gregg Popovich and a team filled with NBA stars.
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 11, 2021
Zach LaVine also got his first taste of Team USA action tonight. And while it may not have ended in the most exciting fashion, it was clear that head coach Gregg Popovich had faith in the Bulls All-Star. LaVine saw 21 minutes of action off the bench, scoring 10 points on 4-8 performance from the field. He showed a great willingness to contribute on the defensive end, playing with active hands and pulling off a couple of key hustle plays like this one …
Good defense by Zach LaVine and save the ball pic.twitter.com/Tr2t8oP2mi
— Gustavo (@iamvega1982) July 11, 2021
Unfortunately, LaVine could not single-handedly pull Team USA over the finish line in the final seconds. After a clear miscommunication between him and Lillard on what should have been a game-tying 3-point attempt, LaVine was sent to the free-throw line with 3.5 seconds left. He unintentionally missed the first before intentionally missing the second. Team USA could not secure the rebound, and Team Nigeria sealed the stunning deal.
While I understand some of the reactions I’ve seen online already, I’d advise against a full-blown freakout until we see more from this roster. Exhibition games exist to work out the kinks. Let’s hope Team USA learns from this and it lights a fire under their ass.
The next game will be on Monday night against Team Australia. You can check out tonight’s full box score here.
— D’Tigers | Nigeria Basketball (@NigeriaBasket) July 11, 2021