Everyone likes a blowout, but this one for the United States men’s basketball team had extra value, cleansing the palate as it begins a stretch of must-win games at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Americans crushed Iran 120-66 Wednesday afternoon for their first win of the Olympics. A victory on Saturday against the Czech Republic will give them a berth into the medal round next week, though this huge margin of victory gives the U.S. a chance to still advance even if they suffer another loss to the Czechs.
It was hard to gauge just what sort of improvement the Americans made because the Iranians were outclassed and just couldn’t keep up with the waves of talent. But there were some hints of the adjustments coach Gregg Popovich made following a loss to France on Sunday that could stick going forward.
First, Popovich changed his starting lineup and inserted Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker, who had come off the bench against France after traveling in following the NBA Finals.
This led to a better balance and a faster lineup, as the Americans racked up 19 fast-break points in the first half alone. The speed kept the Iranians off balance on defense and led to a stream of open shots.
After going just 10-of-32 on 3-pointers against France, this shooting-based team came into its own on Wednesday. Damian Lillard, who had shot the ball below his standard since coming to the team, broke out and dropped in seven 3-pointers as he scored 21 points. When Lillard swished a deep shot well beyond the arc — his trademark — in the game’s opening minutes, his rhythm was evident.