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Damian Lillard suggests foreign NBA players play better in the Olympics than in the NBA

·3-min read
Damian Lillard suggests foreign NBA players play better in the Olympics than in the NBA
Damian Lillard Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier of France, Damian Lillard of USA during the Men's Preliminary Round Group B basketball game between United States and France on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on July 25, 2021 in Saitama, Japan Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
  • Team USA lost to France in the first game of the Olympics men's basketball tournament on Sunday.

  • Team USA has nine NBA All-Stars on its roster while France only has five active NBA players.

  • Damian Lillard said that foreign NBA players play differently when playing for their country.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

This year's US Olympic men's basketball team landed on the wrong side of history when it dropped its first game of the Olympics to France, 83-76, snapping a 25-game win streak in the Olympics back to 2004.

Damian Lillard may have given an excuse as to why during the postgame press conference.

The 31-year-old Portland Trailblazers guard, who is playing in his first Olympics, suggested that foreign NBA players are playing better in the Olympics than in the NBA because they are given more freedom on an Olympic court than on an NBA court.

"And you know who we see each night sometimes in the NBA, they are completely different when they play for their countries," Lillard said. "They got more freedom, and the comfort level is obvious. So we put ourselves in a dogfight, and they made plays to win it."

France only has five active NBA players on its rosters. Most of them are reserves, including Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, New York Knicks guard Frank Nilikina, Boston Celtics guard Evan Fournier, Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum, and Brooklyn Nets guard Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot.

Fournier led the game with 28 points on Sunday, while Gobert, the only NBA All-Star on the French roster, had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Lillard played against both of those players during the last NBA season and saw glimpses of their Olympic performance, but they were both overshadowed by their American teammates.

In two meetings between the Trailblazers and Celtics, Fournier only played in one and scored 21 points in a game that Portland won 129-119. Overall, Fournier averaged 15.4 points per game last year, which was a career-high compared to his 11.4 points per game career average. Still, he brought out his best stuff while representing his country on the Olympic stage.

Lillard faced Gobert and the Jazz three times last season, outscoring the French big man in two of the three meetings. Gobert still played to a similar level that he played on Sunday in those three meetings. However, the fact that he could put up those numbers while leading a victory against a team of NBA superstars like Kevin Durant, Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green, and Lillard is a testament to how hard Gobert played for his country.

The loss to France hasn't been the first sign of decline for Team USA so far either. The US also dropped its first two pre-Olympic exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia. Both teams had NBA players on their rosters, but none of which could match the prestige of Team USA's star-studded cast.

However, now that Team USA's struggles have proven to be a pattern, Lillard's observation about the NBA's foreign players playing better for their countries holds serious credence.

The only question is, why aren't the US's superstars playing as well for their country?

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