team usa settled down and are pulling away once again. this one is just about over
The USA women's basketball team got off to a positive start at the Tokyo Olympics with an 81-72 win over Nigeria in their first game of the tournament. It certainly wasn't always pretty, but they got the job done and ran their Olympics winning streak to an incredible 50 games in the process.
Nigeria's full-court press and tenacity on the defensive end seemed to catch Team USA off guard early in the game. At the end of the first quarter, Nigeria led 20-17 and had forced eight American turnovers. Eventually, however, Team USA was able to adapt to the pressure, started working the ball inside and took full control. At one point in the second quarter, they ripped off a 23-0 run and built a double-digit lead at the break. While they got a little lackadaisical towards the end of the fourth quarter, Team USA was in full control for the entire second half, and was never in danger of losing the game.
Las Vegas Aces star A'ja Wilson led the way for Team USA with 19 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in a dominant interior performance. Her frontcourt partner Brittney Griner added a double-double of her own with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Diana Taurasi was the only other player in double digits with 10 points.
Here are four key takeaways from the game:
1. 50 straight Olympic wins
Dynasties are usually thought of in terms of club teams, but if you expand the discussion to the international level then there's no question the USA women's basketball team is one of the greatest of all time -- in any sport, men or women's. With their win over Nigeria on Tuesday, they extended their Olympics winning streak to an incredible 50 games.
It dates back to the bronze medal game of the 1992 Olympics, when they defeated Cuba. Since then, they've won six straight gold medals without dropping a single game, and are going for No. 7 in a row in Tokyo. If they get there, they'll tie the USA men's basketball team's record of seven straight gold medals from 1936-1968.
2. Too many turnovers
Earlier this month, Team USA suffered a shocking defeat in a pre-Olympics exhibition game against Australia. One of the main reasons for the loss was that they couldn't take care of the ball. They coughed it up 18 times, which led to 14 points for the Australians.
While they got the win over Nigeria on Tuesday, turnovers were once again an issue. Nigeria's relentless pressure up and down the court flustered Team USA, especially early on as they forced eight American turnovers in the first quarter alone. Team USA eventually adapted and figured some things out, but they were still far too careless with the ball for most of the game.
In the end, Team USA finished with a whopping 25 turnovers, which is a big reason why Nigeria had 16 more shot attempts. It didn't end up mattering because Team USA's talent won out, but they won't be able to get away with that against better competition later in the tournament.
3. Wilson and Griner dominate inside
As by far the most talented team in the world, Team USA has advantages all over the court. But perhaps the most obvious is in the paint, where they are too big and too talented for every other country in the world -- especially now that Australia is without Liz Cambage.
That was certainly true against Nigeria, as Team USA won the rebounding battle by a wide margin, 61-41, and scored 36 points in the paint. Just take a look at this shot chart of each team's made baskets and you'll quickly get the idea. Team USA made 29 field goals, and 18 of them were in the paint.
Leading the way were reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson and Brittney Griner. That duo each put up a double-double, and combined for 32 points, 23 rebounds, four assists, three steals and four blocks. And that doesn't even take into account the number of shots they altered, which for Griner in particular was significant.
Nigeria simply had no answer for either of them down low, and it was apparent once Team USA was able to consistently get them the ball. Those two should continue to feast as the tournament goes along. Next up in group play is Japan, who doesn't have a single player taller than 6-foot-1.
4. Bird runs the show
Sue Bird went 0-for-6 from the field and didn't score in this game, yet she was one of Team USA's most important players on the night. While she finished with zero points, she also finished with 13 assists, and Team USA was plus-20 while she was on the court. Single-game plus-minus isn't always the best tool, but it accurately tells the story here.
On a night where Team USA struggled to deal with Nigeria's defensive pressure and got sloppy with the ball, Bird was her usual composed self. Only two of the team's 25 turnovers came from her, and it was her playmaking that jumpstarted the key 23-0 run in the second quarter that turned the game around. During that stretch, Bird assisted on five of Team USA's nine baskets.
Still one of the best point guards around, Bird -- who reached 100 Olympic assists in this game -- has won four straight gold medals, and is going for a fifth here in Tokyo along with Diana Taurasi. If Team USA wins it all, those two will become the first basketball players ever to win five gold medals.