Las Vegas — This is not how USA Basketball expected to open its Olympic summer.
Nigeria probably didn’t expect it, either.
If there was any expectation of invincibility for the Americans heading into the Tokyo Olympics, it’s already gone — after Nigeria shocked the U.S. on Saturday night. Nigeria beat the U.S. 90-87, pulling off an international shocker with a roster primarily filled of little-known NBA players that found a way to defeat a group of All-NBA, All-Star and max-contract performers.
Ike Iroegbu — a former Washington State player who spent some time in the G League — hit a 3-pointer with about 1:15 left to put Nigeria up 88-80. Kevin Durant scored the next seven points for the U.S.; a 3-pointer, two free throws following a turnover, then two more from the line with 16.5 seconds remaining.
Gabe Nnamdi made two foul shots with 13.2 seconds left to restore Nigeria’s 3-point edge. The Americans ran 9.7 seconds off the clock on the ensuing possession without getting a shot off, 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’s only an exhibition — but the upset was still of the massive variety. U.S. coach Gregg Popovich went and shook hands with Nigeria coach Mike Brown, the Golden State assistant, as the Americans walked off stunned.
The Americans had gone 39-0 in their last 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’d beaten Nigeria by a combined 127 points in their last two meetings, one at the 2012 London Games, the other a warm-up for the 2016 Rio Games.