Jayson Tatum warms up at Michelob ULTRA Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
LAS VEGAS — It was stunning in every aspect.
Nigeria knocked off the U.S. men’s national basketball team 90-87 in the first of five exhibition games in nine days ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The U.S. entered Saturday’s game 31-1 in exhibitions since 2005 under Men’s National Team Director Jerry Colangelo, who is retiring after Tokyo and was in attendance against Nigeria.
It was a much different showing than what Nigeria had in its only Olympic meeting with the Americans. That was a 156-73 loss at the 2012 London Games in Nigeria’s Olympic debut. It also showed the U.S. has work to do in order to win a fourth straight gold medal. The U.S. had never before lost to a team from Africa.
U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich went with Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo in the starting lineup for the Americans, with Draymond Green first off the bench. The U.S. played slightly shorthanded with three missing players still active in the NBA Finals, calling up players from the Select Team that has been scrimmaging the Olympians. Durant led the U.S. Saturday with 17 points.
Nigeria, which had 12 NBA players in its 49-man training camp in California and seven who dressed Saturday, was led by Gabe Vincent with 21 points. Nigeria, coached by Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Brown, is ranked 22nd by FIBA and will be making its third straight Olympic appearance.
It was a slow start for the Americans, who were down 5-2 and 11-6 early in the first quarter. The U.S. trailed much of the opening quarter, but took a 23-22 lead on Tatum’s 3-pointer from the wing with 21.2 seconds left. Zach LaVine, Kevin Love and Jerami Grant seemed to provide a little energy to start the second quarter as the U.S. opened a 36-29 lead, its largest of the half, on a LaVine trey with 6:07 left in the second quarter.
Nigeria continued to be a pest for the U.S. in the third quarter and grabbed a 66-64 lead on Caleb Agata’s 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left in the period. The U.S. was just 5 of 14 from the field in the third quarter, while Nigeria hit 9 of 17 shots. The crowd of 4,313, sensing the urgency, gave a rousing cheer when Durant and Lillard re-entered the game with 7:37 left in the fourth.
Ike Iroegbu’s two free throws with 2:46 left made it 80-74, the largest lead for Nigeria in the game. Then a 3-pointer by Michael Gbinije made it 85-77 with 1:43 left. The U.S. would rally to within three points but Nigeria held on for the upset.
The U.S. faces Australia, ranked third in the world, in the second game of its pre-Olympic schedule Monday at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised by NBCSN.