The United States are always favourites at the Olympic Games – and rightly so. In 18 entries to the men's basketball event, Team USA have collected 18 medals, 15 of them gold.

But those three defeats serve as a warning for Gregg Popovich's side.

And any remaining complacency heading to Tokyo 2020 – in pursuit of a fourth straight title – should have been shifted by their initial pre-tournament exhibitions.

The United States lost to Nigeria last Saturday and then to Australia two days later, their third and fourth defeats in exhibitions since first fielding NBA players with the formation of the 'Dream Team' in 1992.

"It was better," as Popovich said, in Tuesday's win over Argentina – "bit by bit, every day, I hope," the coach added – but the pressure is still on, as consistent results must follow when the real action begins.

 

TOUGH START FOR TEAM USA SUPERSTARS

Of course, Team USA have never failed to advance from the preliminary round and that spotless record is highly unlikely to change this year. A kind draw has thrown up only one true test, but it comes first up: against France.

Indeed, Les Bleus dealt the United States their humiliating quarter-final exit at the FIBA Basketball World Cup two years ago.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert – the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year – put up a game-high 16 rebounds in that France victory and his size is a real problem for familiar opponents.

Gobert led the league with 2.7 blocks and 10.1 defensive rebounds per game in 2020-21, snaring 33.5 per cent of defensive boards while on the floor for the third-best mark in the NBA.

Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green might be versatile but, as the two preferred American options at the five, finding joy in the middle seems unlikely, while Team USA might also struggle to stop 7ft 1in Gobert on defense. His 67.5 per cent shooting was another benchmark.

However, the talent elsewhere in the Team USA lineup should ensure they have enough to win most matchups.

Kevin Durant shot 52.3 per cent from the midrange and 45.0 per cent from beyond the arc in the regular season; only two players made more threes than Damian Lillard (275), who then broke Klay Thompson's record with 12 makes from deep in a single playoff game against the Denver Nuggets.

The opener could either see Durant and Co lay down a marker for the rest of the tournament or provide other contenders with a blueprint for beating the United States.

 

BOOMERS BANG UP FOR MEDAL PURSUIT

Australia are far from the biggest team at the Games, but they have already shown the joy that can be found in the paint against Team USA, scoring 44 points from inside the key in their exhibition win.

The Boomers' effective, well-executed gameplan was all the more impressive given the unsettled nature of their team.

They have changed coach three times since the World Cup, and star name Ben Simmons is absent – working to "develop that skill package and improve in a couple of areas", Brian Goorjian said, after averaging an awful 9.9 points per game in the playoff series defeat to the Atlanta Hawks.

But Philadelphia 76ers team-mate Matisse Thybulle is still on hand to provide defensive energy, having led the NBA in steal percentage (3.9), while Patty Mills remains more reliable at international level than for Popovich's San Antonio Spurs.

Four times beaten in the bronze medal game, Australia will expect to finally secure some hardware, yet Group B also contains a dark horse in the form of Nigeria, who followed up their own victory against the United States by dominating Argentina.

Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent had 21 points against the country of his birth, a total he has only once topped in his NBA career to date.

Nigeria have chemistry, talent and, in Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown, coaching experience. They have also played so far like they have a point to prove.

 

DONCIC DRAWN INTO GROUP OF DEATH

Second and third pool games against Iran and the Czech Republic respectively should see that there is no jeopardy for the United States early on, but Group C shows how tough this tournament can be.

There will be a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final between Spain and Argentina, while hosts Japan will hope to make some noise. Then there is Slovenia, led of course by Luka Doncic.

One of the most exciting young talents in the world, Doncic has already shown himself capable of dragging a team to against-the-odds victories single-handedly.

The 22-year-old, whose 36.0 per cent usage rate led the NBA this year, was unsurprisingly named the MVP at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas just three weeks after forcing the Los Angeles Clippers to go to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.

Doncic has averaged 33.5 points across his 13 career postseason games – all of which have come against the Clippers. No player in NBA history has played 13 playoff games or more and averaged more, with Michael Jordan second on 33.4.

But Doncic has lost both of those series to date and is now faced with some hugely experienced players at this level. Argentina's Luis Scola and Spain's Pau Gasol – who moved to Barcelona specifically to prepare for the Games – are both in their 40s.

Should Doncic guide his country into the knockout stage, though, Team USA would undoubtedly be wary of taking on the two-time All-NBA First Team selection.

USA Basketball (USAB) has confirmed that Saturday's exhibition game between the United States and Australia has been cancelled due to growing COVID-19 fears.

The two sides were due to meet for the second time this week as part of their preparations for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

The cancellation comes after USAB confirmed on Thursday that two players had entered health and safety protocols.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal had been ruled out of the Olympics after entering protocols, while Jerami Grant was also placed under protocols, as a precautionary measure.

Team USA are still scheduled to play Spain in Las Vegas on Sunday in their final preparation game before flying for Tokyo on Monday.

USA's opening game at the Tokyo Olympics is on July 25 against France, while Australia commence their Games campaign on the same day against Nigeria.

Australia had shocked USA 91-83 on Tuesday, following their upset defeat to Nigeria on Monday.

Stand in West Indies captain Nicholas Pooran believes things are tying together nicely for the squad, following a 3-1 series win against Australia.

After a difficult series loss against South Africa, the West played their way to a 3-0 lead against Australia in a five-match series, before suffering their first loss on Thursday.

Even so, the affair was a closely contested one, with the Windies losing by just four runs in pursuit of the visitor’s target of 189.  So far for the series the West Indies has boasted an average of 167, up from the 157.4 average against South Africa.  

“I think we are getting close to where we want to be.  We are starting to get opening partnerships of 50 and above, we’ll take that any day,” Pooran told members of the media via an online press conference.

“In the middle overs, for the first three games we batted really well, that is something we adjusted.  After the first series we played that situation well, last time we kind of faltered there a little bit,” he added.

“All in all, I think we are getting there.  You can see in the end now Fabian Allen coming in to bat with Polly out, he’s played that role wonderfully for us and can actually lengthen our batting and we can depend more on Allen.  So from a standing captain's point of view, I believe we are getting there.”

West Indies stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran has backed Andre Russell’s decision to face all six deliveries of the final over of Wednesday’s T20 match that was bowled by Mitchell Starc and from which the home side required 11 runs to take a 4-0 lead in the series.

Mitchell Starc held his nerve at the death to guide Australia to their maiden win of the T20I Series by four runs after the West Indies almost blasted their way to victory from an improbable position on Thursday.

Chasing 189-6, the West Indies needed 57 from 24 balls with five wickets left after Mitch Marsh took two wickets in an over, before fireworks from Fabian Allen (29 from 14) and Andre Russell (22* from 13) turned the game on its head in St Lucia.

The pair combined for four sixes from five balls in the penultimate over from Riley Meredith, needing 11 off the final over but Starc sent down five dot balls to Russell in the last to earn Australia a win which makes the series 3-1.

Australia captain Aaron Finch had won the toss and elected to bat, starting strongly with the skipper making 53 from 37 balls alongside Mitch, who top scored with 75 from 44 deliveries, in a 114-run stand.

The tourists stumbled in the middle order again, losing 40-5 with Hayden Walsh taking three wickets, before some late hitting from Dan Christian and Starc lifted them to a strong total.

The West Indies flew out of the blocks in their pursuit with Lendl Simmons posting 72 from 48 before the outstanding Marsh (24-3) dismissed him, along with Nicholas Pooran in quick succession.

All seemed lost for the hosts at 132-5 but Allen and Russell offered hope, before Starc's clutch final over.

Veteran West Indies batsman Chris Gayle has hailed the influence of team captain Kieran Pollard following a return to form against Australia.

The 42-year-old scored an enterprising 67 from 38 balls as the Windies took an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match T20 series.

The half-century would have come as a relief for the under-pressure batsman who had struggled to make an impact since being recalled to the team.  In eight matches, against Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Australia, Gayle has averaged 12.71, with a combined 89 runs, and has a highest score of 31.  In addition, the batsman has a strike rate of 94.68, well below his career average of 139.71.  In fact, the score was the highest for the player since March 2016. 

“It’s good to be among the runs.  Yes, it’s a relief, any batter who hadn’t been among the runs for quite some time now would definitely want to be back among the runs…but it wouldn’t have been possible without my teammates,” Gayle said.

“He told me that he was backing me to go out there and play the cricket that Chris Gayle is accustomed to playing.  So, getting the backing from my teammates, senior guys like Dwayne Bravo as well, Nicholas Pooran. 

“It gave me goosebumps when Pollard was speaking in the dressing room.  Me being a leader and I used to captain Pollard and I tried to help him excel in his career, now’s he’s the captain and for him to stand up and say ‘hey Chris’ and give me a reminder of how good I am.  It’s fantastic.”

Left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein and off-spinner Kevin Sinclair have been named in the match-day squad as replacements for Shimron Hetmyer and Obed McCoy for the fourth and fifth matches of the CG Insurance T20 International (T20I) series against Australia.

Hetmyer and McCoy are both nursing injuries and will be unavailable.

West Indies have already clinched the series following their six-wicket victory on Monday night that came after an 18-run victory last Friday night and an impressive 56-run triumph on Saturday night.

The next two matches will be played under lights at the Daren Sammy Cricket Stadium (DSCG) on Wednesday, July 14 and Friday, July 16 with the first ball at 7:30 pm (6:30 pm Jamaica Time).

“The team has played really well to win the first three matches and the CG Insurance Series – they have played good cricket in every department,” said CWI Chief Selector Roger Harper.

“The aim is to continue to build on the momentum created and strive to win the remaining games. Winning builds confidence from a team perspective and will give the players greater belief in the roles they are playing. So, it is important to keep winning. We took the decision to rest players who have picked up some niggles and give opportunities to other players in the squad.”

This CG Insurance T20I Series forms part of the West Indies T20 World Cup preparation. The defending champions have a total of 15 T20Is to be played across three months in the build-up to the ICC T20 World Cup which is being staged in the United Arab Emirates and Oman from October 17 to November 14.

Fully vaccinated patrons will be able to buy tickets for the series from the stadium ticket office at the East Gate on presentation of their vaccination documentation and their national ID, with tickets available at EC$50 per match.

The full squad comprises Kieron Pollard (Captain), Nicholas Pooran (Vice-Captain), Fabian Allen, Dwayne Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Akeal Hosein, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Kevin Sinclair, Evin Lewis, Andre Russell, Lendl Simmons, Oshane Thomas, and Hayden Walsh Jr

Fidel Edwards, Shimron Hetmyer and Obed McCoy are the travelling reserves.

France claimed their first away win over Australia for 31 years as they secured a nail-biting 28-26 victory in the second Test at AAMI Park.

Les Bleus let victory slip through their grasp in a dramatic finish in the first game between the nations in Brisbane last week.

Despite controlling much of Wednesday's contest in Melbourne, France risked suffering a similar fate and losing the series when Michael Hooper crossed in the 71st minute and Noah Lolesio then gave Australia their first lead of the match with a 40-metre penalty in the 75th minute.

But there was a final twist in the tale as France gained a penalty in the scrum and Melvyn Jaminet split the uprights to take his tally to 23 points and give his side a first triumph against the Wallabies in Australia since June 30, 1990.

The boot of Jaminet and Damian Penaud's first-half try had France ahead 16-13 at the interval, with Jake Gordon keeping the Wallabies in touching distance by going over from close range in the 38th minute.

Lolesio levelled matters at 16-16 six minutes after the restart but Jaminet's accuracy from the tee gave France a seemingly commanding nine-point lead, the tourists dictating matters despite a bruising performance from Marika Koroibete.

Koroibete gained 181 metres for the Wallabies, but it was their captain who looked to have turned the tide, Hooper scoring for the third successive game for the first time in his Australia career. Lolesio converted from out wide and then knocked over a long-range penalty.

Yet France were not to be denied this time around, an immense effort in the scrum allowing Jaminet to set up a decider back at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

The West Indies have clinched their T20 International series against Australia, racing to an unassailable 3-0 lead with a dominant six-wicket win in St Lucia on Monday.

Chris Gayle produced his best knock since his return to the international side, with 67 from 38 balls as the West Indies cruised in the chase, winning with 31 balls to spare.

Stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran (32* from 27 balls) finished the job with back-to-back boundaries off Riley Meredith (48-3) to seal the series victory with two games to play.

Australia captain Aaron Finch won the toss and elected to bat first this time, with his batsmen failing to capitalise on several starts, only managing 141-6.

Moises Henriques top scored with 33, hitting Australia's only two sixes, with Hayden Walsh restricting them with 18-2 from four overs.

The improved Mitchell Starc (18-1 from four) dismissed Andre Fletcher early, bringing Gayle to the crease and the 41-year-old was at his best.

Gayle hit several lusty blows, including seven sixes and four fours in his knock, before edging to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade off Meredith.

RETURN TO FORM FOR GAYLE?

Gayle has made it clear that his return to the West Indies, after two years away, has been inspired by competing at the T20 World Cup later this year.

Despite strong Indian Premier League form, he has struggled upon his return to the international arena, managing only 102 runs in nine innings.

The veteran left-hander made his first T20 International half-century since 2016 with his knock at first drop on Monday.

"From a personal point of view, you all knew I was struggling with the bat, but to be get some runs today it's very pleasing," Gayle said. "I want to dedicate these runs to my teammates, especially Kieron Pollard. He gave me the pep talk I needed."

Gayle made 288 runs in seven innings at an average of 41.14 in the 2020 IPL, before scoring 178 runs in eight knocks in the 2021 edition.

"Looking back, when I got back into the West Indies team against Sri Lanka, I was trying to play a different role, than play Chris Gayle himself," Gayle said. "I didn’t get the runs but the guys rallied around me. It's coming on, my main focus is the World Cup."

AUSSIES T20I WOES CONTINUE

Australia continue to struggle in the shortest format, having been comfortably beaten in all three matches in the series.

Finch, who made 30 from 31 deliveries at the top of the order, felt there was a clear theme to address among the losses.

"Same as the other games, we haven’t had the top order go on deep into the innings," Finch said. "It's been quite similar the whole way through. Credit to the West Indies, they bowled beautifully, especially at the back end."

Australia have only managed scores of 127, 140 and 141-6 in the three T20Is this series, bowled out on both occasions when they have chased.

"We would’ve liked more runs, no doubt," Finch added. "That comes down to the top order not going through. If one of your top four is there through the end you put pressure on the bowlers."

Shimron Hetmyer blasted the West Indies to a 2-0 lead in their five-game T20I series against Australia with a 56-run at St Lucia on Saturday.

Hetmyer arrived at the crease at 44-2 in the sixth over but blasted four sixes on his way to 61 from 36 deliveries.

Australia captain Aaron Finch had won the toss and elected to field, but the West Indies amassed 196-4 buoyed by Hetmyer's knock, piling on 123 runs in the latter 10 overs.

Hetmyer had excellent support from Dwayne Bravo (47* from 34) and Andre Russell (24* from eight), feasting on a wayward Mitchell Starc (49-0 from four overs).

The tourists struggled again with the bat, losing openers Matthew Wade (duck) and Finch (six) cheaply, before being bowled out for 140.

Mitch Marsh, elevated to first drop, top scored with 54 from 42 balls, as Hayden Walsh took 29-3 while Sheldon Cottrell claimed 22-2.

Australia lost 39-7 after Marsh's dismissal to Walsh, with the tourists struggling to offer any significant resistance, managing only two sixes for the innings, compared to the West Indies' 13.

HETMYER HITS 'EM

After Chris Gayle failed, Guyana left-hander Hetmyer stepped up with his 61 being his international T20I best, and also only his second half-century for the West Indies.

Hetmyer said: "I think it was one of my best T20 innings. I paced it quite well. The guys backed me to take it as deep as possible. Once you do that, you have a licence."

The 24-year-old capitalized on that licence, hitting Ashton Agar, Marsh and Adam Zampa for sixes in consecutive overs.

Hetmyer was run out with 13 balls left in the innings, before Bravo and Russell added another 34 runs to set an imposing target.

The pair took a liking to Starc, with 15 runs coming from four balls in the penultimate over.

AUSSIES T20I WOES

Finch declined the blame his decision to bowl first for the defeat, while he also refused to give the series away despite trailing 2-0 and being outplayed so far.

The Australia skipper said: "I don’t think the wicket changed a huge amount. I thought it played pretty well. Chasing 190, you have to get off to a pretty good start and when your two openers get out cheaply, it puts a lot of pressure on a reasonably inexperienced international middle order."

On the series, Finch added: "We have to win three games in the series, doesn’t matter if you do it at the start of the series or come from behind."

This is Australia's first games since losing 3-2 in a five-game T20I series in New Zealand in February and March.

Finch's side also lost 2-1 in a T20I International series away to England in September last year as they strive to find their groove in the shortest format.

 West Indies spinner Hayden Walsh Jr insists the team never doubted that they were still in the game despite facing an uphill battle late in the first T20 international against Australia.

In the end, the West Indies triumphed in an 18-run win in St Lucia on Friday but at one point seemed headed for a certain defeat.  On the back of a century from Mitchell Marsh, the Australians had put 70 for the loss of three wickets on the board, at the end of the power play.

However, Walsh Jr combined with the man of the match Obed McCoy and the spinners decimated the Australia line-up as the visitors lost their last six wickets for 19 runs.  Walsh Jr accounted for Marsh in his haul of 3 for 23, while McCoy ended with 4 for 26.

“We just kept believing and we just kept thinking we were always in the game.  We were picking up wickets all the time so with us picking up wickets we just felt we were always in the game,” Walsh said following the match.

“When I came on to bowl, the way that I bowled I just had the feeling that these guys were going to have trouble playing me and getting the ball off the square and hitting boundaries,” he added.

The spinner was returning to the squad for the first time since November of last year.

Former West Indies fast bowler Tony Gray believes the Australia series could be make or break for veteran batsman Chris Gayle, insisting he would give him just another two games to turn things around, if he were on the panel of selectors.

The 41-year-old Gayle has struggled to make a positive impact with the bat since being recalled to the team in February of this year, after two years away from the squad.

The batsman's selection to the preliminary World Cup squad has proven to be a source of controversy with opinion sharply split into two camps.  On one hand, many believe the batsman's ability to change a game within a few deliveries continues to make him an indispensable asset heading into the tournament, others point to his decline in explosiveness and fitness as evidence that the spot should be taken up a younger player.

His performances so far have done little to make a strong case for his inclusion.  In eight matches, against Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Australia, Gayle has averaged 12.71, with a combined 89 runs, and has a highest score of 31.  In addition, the batsman has a strike rate of 94.68, well below his career average of 139.71.

Speaking just before the start of the Australia series, Gray suggested the batsman could be running out of time to repay the faith of the selectors.

“I think initially the selectors did a good job of picking this T20 squad.  You have to give Chris Gayle the chance to show he has some kind of form, but if he is getting the opportunity and not firing, I would not pick him,” Gray told the Mason and Guest radio show.

Gayle is the all-time leading runs scorer for the West Indies in T20 international cricket, having scored 1716 in 66 matches.

"I think they need to have a serious word with Chris Gayle in the sense that he is 41 years old now, and obviously they have to have some sort of system where they say to Chris Gayle that 'we're giving you about nine games,'" Gray said.

"If you're not firing for nine games, then the remaining games before the World Cup, we have to give a young player', so that's the sort of system they need with Chris Gayle,” he added.

"If he doesn't fire against Australia for the first two games, I'm not taking him to the World Cup. That would be seven games - against Sri Lanka and South Africa - and the next two games would be nine games, he had an opportunity to fire.”

Gayle made just 4 runs in the opening match against Australia on Friday.

 

 

West Indies took six Australia wickets for just 19 runs as the hosts secured victory in the sides' T20 opener.

The Windies put on 145-6 in St Lucia, where Obed McCoy and Hayden Walsh did most of the damage with the ball in an 18-run triumph.

Andre Russell's maiden half-century was also a telling contribution in what was a fifth win in six for the Windies against Australia in this format

Australia had looked in good shape after restricting the home side to 35-3 off 7.4 overs, but Russell's 51 came from 28 deliveries to help his side to a credible total.

The tourists lost the dangerous Aaron Finch in the second over of their response before rallying to reach 108-4 at just past the midway point.

With Australia firmly on track for the win, the Windies needed something special and it was McCoy and Walsh who produced the goods.

Wickets tumbled as McCoy took 4-26 and Walsh claimed 3-23, with seven of Australia's batting order limited to a single-figure contribution in an innings where they were all out for 127 in 16 overs.

THE REAL MCCOY

It was a devastating spell with the ball for McCoy, who accounted for Josh Philippe, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

But it wasn't just his wicket-taking that impressed, with McCoy suppressing Australia's run rate by delivering 13 dot balls in a man-of-the-match display.

"It feels great," said McCoy. "I've been working really hard. It was just all about execution and sticking to the team plan.

"Normally on that surface the ball has nice bounce and carry but I was just trying to mix up my pace as much as I can."

NO EXCUSES FROM FINCH

Australia captain Finch offered no excuses for what was a shocking collapse from his side.

Finch admitted his team needed to show a little more intelligence in their approach.

He said: "We've been working on trying to be a little more aggressive in the middle overs but maybe just need to rein it in and have some more smarts.

"I thought the wicket played a little better batting second. There's no excuses for our batting display there.

"You've got to dust yourselves off and come again with the same attitude but just execute a little bit better under pressure."

The Cricket West Indies Selection Panel has announced the 14-member squad for the first of the five-match CG Insurance T20 International (T20I) series against Australia. The match will be played under lights at the Daren Sammy Cricket Stadium on Friday, July 9 with the first ball at 7:30 pm (6:30 pm Jamaica Time).

Leg-spinner Hayden Walsh Jr has been named in the match-day squad while all-rounder Fabian Allen returns from an injury sustained in the recent series against South Africa. All-rounder Jason Holder is being rested for this series as part of his workload management, and he is expected to feature in upcoming One-Day Internationals and Test matches.

Roger Harper, Lead Selector said: “Hayden Walsh Jr adds variety and another wicket-taking option, while Fabian Allen, who was unavailable for the last game because of injury, returns. Considering the opposition, it is important that the team plays well in all departments, especially the batting, which needs to deliver more consistently.”

This CG Insurance T20I Series forms part of the West Indies’ World Cup preparation with a total of 15 T20Is to be played across three months in the build-up to the ICC T20 World Cup to be played from October 17 to November 14 in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Fans in the Caribbean can watch exclusively live on Flow Sports or via the Flow Sports app. West Indies fans can also follow live ball-by-ball scoring in the www.windiescricket.com live match centre, featuring the new live match blog. Live radio commentary is available on a number of radio stations across the Caribbean and available worldwide, except in India and Bangladesh, on the Windies Cricket YouTube channel.

Fans in Australia can follow this match and the entire West Indies vs Australia CG Insurance T20I and ODI Series live on Foxtel’s Fox Cricket channel as well as via live stream on Kayo Sports.

Fully vaccinated patrons will be able to buy tickets for the series from the stadium ticket office at the East Gate on presentation of their vaccination documentation and their national ID, with tickets available at EC$50 per match. A three-match ticket promotion is available for just EC$120, with a special Series five-match season ticket special at EC$200.

FULL SQUAD: Kieron Pollard (Captain), Nicholas Pooran (Vice-Captain), Fabian Allen, Dwayne Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Fidel Edwards, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Evin Lewis, Obed McCoy, Andre Russell, Lendl Simmons, and Hayden Walsh Jr.

Travelling Reserves: Akeal Hosein, Kevin Sinclair, and Oshane Thomas.

As the West Indies heads into their five-match T20 series against Australia, white-ball captain Kieron Pollard has conceded that the team struggles with rotating the strike but says they are constantly working to resolve the problem.

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