Damian Lillard didn't wait long to make a statement following Team USA's first Olympic loss since 2004.
The Trail Blazers superstar drained six threes in the first half of the Americans' second game in Group A, spurring them to a 120-66 romp over Iran.
Lillard finished with a game-high 21 points, each of his makes and all but two of his 15 field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. He mostly played set-up man after halftime, making sure his teammates were involved as Team USA kept building on a massive lead that once reached 57 points.
The U.S. shot 55.3 percent from the field and connected on 19 triples against Iran, some much-needed regression to the mean after they struggled to maintain efficient offense in Sunday's dispiriting loss to France. Defense played just as big a factor in the Americans' dominance, though. Team USA forced 23 turnovers on Tuesday, racing out to a 38-5 edge in fast-break points.
"I thought we came out we showed a lot, a lot more urgency, a lot more energy, our pace was up," Lillard said after the game. "We competed much harder defensively and put a lot of pressure on them and was able to get out and get easier baskets play in space, using our length and athleticism and our talent very well against him. I think if we play the way we played tonight, we got a great chance to accomplish the goal that we set out coming here."
In wake of the loss to France, Lillard and his teammates pointed to their passive offensive approach as a driving force behind their struggles. With just three weeks since training camp tipped off in Las Vegas, the American stars are still working to find the optimal balance between looking for their own offense and finding their teammates—one they're normally not tasked with striking as NBA alpha dogs.
Clearly, Team USA did a much better job of managing it against Iran. Gregg Popovich's team, which swapped Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker in the starting lineup for Zach LaVine and Draymond Green against Iran, doled out a whopping 34 assists on 42 field goals.
LaVine led Team USA with eight dimes, while Lillard and Kevin Durant finished with five apiece. Obviously, ball and player movement was paramount to the Americans' immense success offensively. But for Durant, it was Lillard's early shot-making that most set the tone.
“Damian came out, got it scorching for us, so we’re gonna need that going forward," he said.
Team USA almost surely won't have as easy a time against the Czech Republic on Saturday. If they can tap into the aggressiveness, teamwork and defensive intensity they showed on Tuesday, though, the Americans still have the chance to make their opening-game loss an afterthought en route to gold—with Lillard leading the way.