Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum shared a jovial bond and formed some irreplaceable memories as Blazer teammates. They pounded the Rose Garden hardwood from 2012 when Lillard was drafted until Batum was traded away in 2015.
Both Lillard and Batum as difference-makers for their teams in Olympic showdown
The competitive juices were running rampant as both these players were dialed in and fired up to be playing a former teammate. Neither player scored the ball well during this match-up of the 2020 summer Olympics. It’s unlikely that either of these guys would have envisioned starting for their respective teams in international competition even with both their career trajectories on the rise.
The Olympic contest between France and Team USA took place on July 25th in Tokyo, Japan. Team USA was in control midway through the third quarter until the French made a run. Batum’s dialed-in aggressive play made a big difference. He played like someone who could anticipate Lillard’s decisions when it counted most. The game featured a whole litany of moments when the former teammates went at each other. One of the biggest moments came when Lillard attempted to make a swing pass from the three point line to the other side of the perimeter. Batum was able to swat the ball right out of his hands. He sprinted the other way and eventually had to be fouled in order to prevent an easy bucket for the French side.
The French played with dedicated energy. As time wore on in the third quarter, it was clear the French led by Boston Celtic Evan were as hungry and confident as ever. Their efforts served to support their leader’s assertion. Fournier revealed his attitude to Ben Golliver of the Washington Post, saying of team USA that “they are better individually but can be beaten as a team.”
The Difference in the Game
The French team stayed true to their commitment to a fundamentally-sound approach to team basketball. They were able to find the touch from long range and connected on a bevy of three point shots. Team USA tried to answer with deep bombs of their own but were unable to connect on their shots. The Gregg Popovich-led squad had three players join the team late, just a few hours before game time. Unsurprisingly, chemistry was hard to come by. Team USA settled for a lot of outside shots in an effort to match France.
Damian Lillard took 10 shots, only connecting on three of them. He did the majority of his work from behind the three point line; nine of his ten shots were three pointers. By the time the third quarter ended team USA’s lead had evaporated and both teams needed a strong showing in the final quarter to secure this close nail-biter. Though no one player caught fire for the Americans, the team did send a lot of players to the free throw line. France seemed determined not to let team USA get easy looks.
Did Batum and Lillard show up in crunch time?
One of this trips to the free throw line resulted from Batum’s hyper aggressive play. Guard Devin Booker let a corner three fly only to have Batum hit him as he was shooting. Booker hit 2/3 free throws but the French went back the other way and continued their three point shooting efficiency. Batum was competing hard. On the other end, Lillard refused to be outclassed in international competition and sacrificed his body going down hard as he tried to dive on a loose ball.
Lillard remained heavily involved in the action throughout the match up. Unable to find the range, he mainly turned his focus to being a playmaker. He set both Jrue Holliday and Zach Lavine up for rhythm three point shots. But no one emerged as a player who could be consistent and the shots did not make their mark.
The French took the lead in the final minute and looked to close out the game. The Americans had a few possessions to try to even things up. Unfortunately Lillard may not want his name associated with this pivotal play: he was part of the turnover that resulted in an errant pass. He dove to try to recover the ball but couldn’t reach it, extended his leg and thereby giving the French free throws and the ball.
Team USA would go on to lose 83-76 in regulation. France benefited from a balanced attack necessitating only 5 points from Batum. He played with a sense of urgency and contested shots and passes galore, even risking picking up fouls with his closely-contested plays. He carried a sense of confidence that translated to the rest of the team. On the other side, Lillard looked very dedicated to fitting in with his teammates. It will be interesting to see if the next game he will start playing the more aggressive, driving style we are used to see him play.