The United States Men’s Basketball Team defeated Spain 95-81 in the quarterfinals of the Olympic basketball tournament on Monday night.
After trailing by 10 points early on, head coach Gregg Popovich made the awkward decision of benching one of the American team’s biggest stars: Damian Lillard.
A lot of head coaches would have balked at the notion of benching such a notable name. Especially considering how many of Team USA players have already turned on Popovich heading into this week. Fortunately, the move ultimately paid dividends.
Lillard was struggling offensively, finishing the day with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and was getting absolutely wrecked by Ricky Rubio defensively. For the game, Rubio recorded 38 points.
Once Lillard left the game, Durant took over – leading Team USA to victory with 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He, along with Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and a mix of Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo proved to be just the right combination to thwart Spain’s efforts.
After the game, Popovich explained the decision to bench Lillard.
“Adjusting during the game is really important,” Popovich said, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “It depends on how people are playing, what the matchups are, score at the time, whether you need defense or offense. All those considerations go into who’s going to be on the court at that time. So, we just make the best decision we can and that’s what we decided tonight, and it worked out.”
Alex Caruso stays winning. https://t.co/RPDs7KeKXN
— Game 7 (@game7__) August 2, 2021
Next up Team USA will square off versus the winner of the Australia vs. Argentina game in the semifinals. Two more wins and the American side can claim gold at the 2021 games. For all the chatter about how bad this team is, they are still very close to winning it all.
As for Lillard, it’ll be interesting to see his role in the next game. While it’s unlikely that any of the 5 teams that are desperately trying to trade for him will be scared off by his meek performance on the world stage, it’s still not great for his brand.
Will he bounce back against the winner of Argentina and Australia? Time will tell.