A philosophical coach Gregg Popovich was looking at the big picture after Team USA lost an international exhibition game for the first time since 2004.
The ultimate goal is to win the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, which starts in a week in China, and a sloppy loss to a cohesive Australian team — led by a red-hot Patty Mills who had 30 points — may be what lights the fire under Team USA in a way nothing else can.
“You can learn as much or more from losing as winning,” Popovich said (via an NBL video of his postgame press conference). “We’re all used to winning and losing. USA has been a little bit different over the last 12 years, used to winning, so hopefully, we can get back on that track….
“The Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we want to be and how you have to play in this kind of competition, so we’re getting used to that and hopefully learning.”
People forget that in the 2016 Olympics the Australians gave Team USA — with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — a tough game, with the Americans needing a late push to win by 10 (Mills was a force in that game, too).
Popovich was quick to compliment the Australians — calling the Spurs’ Mills “a pain in the ass” — a lot of his focus was on the defensive issues Team USA showed in the loss.
“That’s got to be our calling card. We scored 94 and that’s good enough, but we didn’t hold them the way we needed to defensively,” Popovich said. “To us, it’s obvious that that’s what we have to be. We have to be a good defensive and rebounding team. We did that [in a 15-point win over this same Australian team two days before], but we didn’t do it today.”
This game was a reminder that while the Americans may be the most talented and deepest team in the World Cup field, their margin for error is small. Blame that on the guys who stayed home for the Americans if you want, but the reality is the rest of the world is closing the gap on the USA also. For this USA Basketball squad there is a slim margin for error, and the Australians were the more cohesive and physical team on Saturday.
Team USA has one more exhibition game, against Canada in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup. Team USA’s first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic. The USA also will face Turkey and Japan in the first round of group play.