Japan’s back is firmly against the wall in the men’s basketball tournament after it was humiliated by Slovenia 116-81 in their second game on Thursday.

One of the focal points for Japan going into the contest was to slow down Slovenia’s Luka Doncic, but they actually had a difficult time figuring out the entire team, not just the Dallas Mavericks superstar.

Doncic posted 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to propel his side to its second straight win after it opened the tournament by stunning Argentina, the world’s No. 4 ranked team, 118-100 on Monday.

Now Japan needs to defeat Argentina, the 2004 Olympic gold medalists, in their final Group B game on Sunday in order to give themselves a chance of advancing to the knockout stage.

The top two nations in each of the three groups as well as the two best third-place teams will move to the next round.

For the Akatsuki Five, forwards Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe put their NBA talents on display in scoring 34 points and 17 points, respectively.

Japan, ranked No. 42, got off to a fine start in the opening quarter, keeping pace with the European team, who are making their first Olympic appearance in men’s basketball. Japan managed to stay in the game heading into half-time, albeit trailing by a 53-41 score.

Slovenia's Luka Doncic dribbles past Japan's Gavin Edwards. | AFP-JIJI
Slovenia’s Luka Doncic dribbles past Japan’s Gavin Edwards. | AFP-JIJI

But Slovenia would only extend their lead, draining eight 3-pointers in the final quarter, and ended up with a lopsided 35-point margin of victory.

Zoran Doragic supported Doncic’s offense with 24 points of his own and all of Slovenia’s other 10 players scored points in the rout.

“We know Japan is not a bad team. We need to respect everybody, and we played the first two quarters with a little bit of problems,” Dragic said after the game at Saitama Super Arena. “But then in the third and fourth quarter, we showed what kind of team we are and we won the game easier.” Slovenia took advantage of its size, outscoring Japan 54-28 in the paint. It also capitalized on its own second-chance shots by scoring 20 against its opponent’s four. Slovenia outrebounded the Olympics hosts 54-33.

“They played better than us throughout the game,” Japan head coach Julio Lamas said. “They are a very good team, they are a very complete team with one amazing player (Doncic) and they played better than us.” Both Lamas and Hachimura echoed that sentiment, noting that Japan let Slovenia play as freely as it did toward the end of the game because they didn’t have enough gas left in the tank.

“It was a tough game. We talked about the last game (an 88-77 loss to Spain) and had to start this game with more energy. We did a good job of that,” the Washington Wizards’ Hachimura said. “But in the second half, we were a little bit tired.” Watanabe, who is known as a solid defender, was mostly tasked with guarding Doncic, with Hachimura and Yudai Baba spelling him at times. But overall, the team struggled to slow down the Slovenian offense, orchestrated by Doncic.

“Luka Doncic is one of the best four or five players in the world right now even in the NBA, but he plays very comfortably in the FIBA rules with the spacing and the rules, he dominates,” Lamas said. “Some other NBA players don’t feel comfortable to play in the FIBA rules but he does not. It’s not easy to have a plan against him because he’s excellent in all phases. He can score, he can drive, he can shoot, he can post up. And he creates players for others, too.” Slovenia bench boss Aleksander Sekulic emphasized that the country “is playing together” as a unit, not as a team that is run by Doncic.

“For us, having this group of guys playing together, regardless of who is on the court or who is on the bench, they play together,” Sekulic said. “And whoever’s coming on the court wants to bring something to the team. And this is our strength, like we can say power of the pack. We are really packed together, we really play together. Even though we have, obviously, the best player in the world, we still play as a team and that’s the most important thing for us.” Slovenia, who earned their Olympic spot through June’s qualifying tournament, will face Spain on Sunday.

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