LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two days after being added to the Olympic team, Keldon Johnson keyed a huge third-quarter run to help the U.S. beat Spain.
Damian Lillard scored 19 points and Johnson added 15 in an 83-76 victory Sunday night in the final pre-Olympic game for both teams before they head to Tokyo.
Johnson had been one of the young players training against the Americans, and had appeared in two exhibition games. The San Antonio forward/guard was added to the Olympic squad Friday after Bradley Beal tested positive for the coronavirus and Kevin Love withdrew because of a calf injury. The U.S. also added JaVale McGee, who didn’t play.
“Keldon Johnson played a really solid basketball game. made cuts to the bucket,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “When he did go to the bucket he was very physical. Very solid in half-court defense. He had a very, very good night.”
This was the U.S. team’s fourth exhibition in eight days in Las Vegas. The Americans were supposed to have a fifth against Australia on Friday, but that was canceled out of caution because of the coronavirus issues the Americans were dealing with.
The two top-ranked team in the world struggled early on with Spain missing its first six shots before finally getting a basket 4:35 into the game.
Despite the slow start the Spaniards led 18-14 after one. They extended the lead to 38-36 at the half. Lillard and Durant each had 11 points at the half. The two combined to go 7 for 16 from the field while the rest of the U.S. squad was 5 of 19. Ricky Rubio had 14 points at the half for Spain.
“The defense was pretty solid. we couldn’t make a shot, but they didn’t let up defensively,” Popovich said. “Kept their focus in that regard which will be important.”
Trailing 46-42 in the third quarter, the U.S. finally got going. The Americans scored the first 11 points during a 23-6 run that spanned the final two quarters. Johnson had eight points during the game-changing spurt. His dunk midway through the burst brought the crowd to life.
“I’m out here to be that energy guy, bring life to the team whenever you need it,” Johnson said. “The third quarter we needed a spark. not saying because I got a couple of buckets. On the defense end, trying to bring some kind of energy or spark so we can get over the hump.”
Spain only had one field goal in the final 5:44 of the quarter and was down 57-50 heading into the fourth quarter.
The U.S. kept the burst going to start the fourth and led 65-52 on Jayson Tatum’s reverse layup with 7:30 left. Spain could get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
Rubio finished with 23 points,
While the U.S. had struggled at times in Las Vegas, Rubio, who has played internationally for years, thinks they’ll figure it out.
“It’s the first time they are playing together, it takes time,” he said. “They are dangerous if they play as a team.”
BACK WITH THE TEAM
Jerami Grant returned to the U.S. squad after being in health and safety protocols since earlier this week “out of an abundance of caution”
Spain: The Spaniards open pool play against Japan on July 26.
U.S.: The Americans open up Olympic pool play against France next Sunday.