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Team USA continues Olympic journey vs. Japan

Australia Opals v United States Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

That was closer than expected. Team USA got off to a slow start and got a scare late, but managed to hold on and beat Nigeria 81-72 to open up their Tokyo Olympic run. There was a lot going on in this game, which we’ll get into in a few.

The opponent this time around will be host nation, Japan! Normally, the hometown fans would be jacked up when their team takes on the Americans, but as we all know, there are no crowds for these games. They got off to a great start with an upset win over France on Monday.

Where to follow the game

USA Network on TV. NBC Sports App if you’re on the go. Late night affair so we’re getting going after 12:30 AM.

Injuries

Nothing doing here.

The game

It’s gonna be hard to win when you turn it over the way Team USA did. They coughed it up 25 times on Tuesday, but luckily for them, they did enough to withstand it. As the competition toughens up and the stakes get higher, their need to make the most out of their possessions will take on even more importance.

When they lock in on defense, Team USA becomes even more dangerous. The game turned against Nigeria when they held them scoreless for seven game minutes as the offense got in gear. Offense comes and go, but defense will always travel.

Point guard play will be important tonight. Sue Bird didn’t score, but she played her part by handing out 13 assists. Bird is one of basketball’s greatest distributors and if she can keep the offense humming while cashing in on her three point attempts, the USA will bring home another gold. Rui Machada was awesome as a distributor in her own right as she handed out 11 assists in 24 minutes vs. France. She’ll need to be a bit more careful with the ball as six turnovers will spell doom against a team like the USA.

If Japan can keep up their success from three point range, they might be able to make it shake. They went 11-27 from downtown against France on Monday night and if they do something similar, they’ll have a chance to pull off the upset. The Americans only went 5-20 from deep, so look for them to bounce back. In particular, look for Breanna Stewart to get back in gear. Stewie couldn’t find her shot and missed out on a few open looks as she went 3-13. Superstars always help out in other ways so her 11 rebounds and four assists helped the cause for coach Dawn Staley and the States.

The Americans’ size helped them against Nigeria, and they’ll get a challenge today in the form of Maki Takada. Takada played 36 minutes and helped the cause with 10 points and six rebounds. She’ll have her hands full with Brittney Griner. Outside of the four fouls and seven turnovers, Griner was a force as she was perfect from the field and free throw line along with grabbing ten rebounds for her trouble. Finishing over Griner is incredibly challenging so it’s going to take a team effort from Japan to slow her down.

Player to watch: A’ja Wilson

A pretty good debut for the MVP. Wilson scored an efficient 19 points on 6-10 from the field in her 27 minutes of playing time. It looked like Team USA got its offense out of the mud once they started featuring Wilson more in the low post. The Americans have the most size in the tournament so as they feature their bigs more and more, they can wear opponents down.

From the Vault

Sue Bird (and Diana Taurasi) is on the road to her fifth gold medal, which would be a record in basketball. Let’s take it back to 2012 after she got her third gold

More reading: Swish Appeal