After going .500 in the exhibition round, Team USA suffered an upset Saturday night in Tokyo and now, anxiety is the mood of the day.
The Opening Game of the Americans’ defense of their 2016 gold was one that’s been on Team USA’s radar for a long time, a revenge game against the French national team, Les Bleus, the seventh-best team in the world according to FIBA rankings. Two years ago in the FIBA World Cup, Team USA suffered a major upset, losing to France in the quarterfinals. The loss resonated with the team up till Sunday.
“We’ve been preparing for France for two years. I think about it every day,” said Gregg Popovich, Team USA’s coach then and now. But two years later, the same result is now haunting Popovich again. Except this time, it’s on the world’s biggest stage.
Team USA’s 24-game win streak snapped to the hands of the French, 83-76 in the first game of the group stage. It’s the first loss for the U.S men’s national team since 2004 and Team USA falls to 0-1 in Group A. The U.S men’s national team has now lost three games, including two exhibitions, to teams from three different continents: Nigeria, Australia and France. All is not lost, however. As long as Team USA win their next two games vs. Iran and the Czech Republic and get in the medal round, the loss is just an embarrassment.
The United States men’s national team led 74-73, after a back-and-forth contest at an empty Saitama Arena. Then, with a minute to go, disaster struck. France took the lead off a three from the Celtics Evan Fournier — who led France with a game-high 28 points — to take a two-point lead. The play stemmed from a tremendous hustle play from Guerschon Yabusele diving and sliding into Team USA’s bench.
With 44 seconds remaining, Team USA tried to follow Fournier’s three with a triple of their own rather than driving into a crowded paint, guarded by the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert. Their late hopes of taking the lead evaporated as three straight missed deep balls from Zach LaVine, Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday fell short in a single possession. France went on to hit seven of their eight free throws to secure the win.
“We had a chance to knock down a three. We got a couple of rebounds. I missed a three to go up two and then it became a four-point swing. I feel like we missed a couple threes there. France is a good team. They play very, very well together and you can tell they stay consistent throughout the whole game,” Holiday said after the loss. “We just got to keep going. We got to break that barrier, but I’m very positive about tonight.”
Durant struggled in the opening loss after getting in early foul trouble, eventually fouling out after picking up his fifth and final foul with 15.5 seconds remaining. The Nets superstar finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from three to go with two rebounds and two assists. In many ways, it was his worst individual performance on the international stage where he had been 39-0 before the loss.
“The officiating. A little different. A lot of the calls I feel like are made in the NBA aren’t made here. It’s like a weird physicality but you can’t be too physical. Kevin was trying to do a good job of being physical and he got called for those,” Holiday said on the FIBA officiating.
Jrue Holiday — fresh off of a rigorous NBA Finals that concluded Tuesday and a 6,000-mile long flight — provided Team USA with some life in the fourth quarter. He finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench. Bam Adebayo was next with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with 10 rebounds.
“He told us the things that we have to do better. We were up 10 and nine a couple of times. There are times where we have to put people away when we have those advantages. Coming out of the half, we have to do better. Not to get too high and not to get too low, we still have a chance to accomplish our goal, and being consistent is the best way of doing it,” Holiday said.
Team USA concluded the loss shooting 25-of-69 from the field (36.2 percent) and 10-of-32 (31.3 percent). Jerami Grant was the only U.S. player to record a DNP.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot recorded two points for France on 1-of-6 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 from deep. He also had two rebounds and an assist. Nando de Colo — who once played for Popovich in San Antonio — finished with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists in the win. (In case you’re asking, the 34-year-old de Colo’s NBA rights are held by the Raptors).
So, now, Team USA must win their final two pool games against Iran — Wednesday at 12:40 PM ET — and the Czech Republic — Saturday at 8:00 AM ET — to advance to the medal round.
“It’s the type of team that we are. We’ve been through a lot, especially this season with COVID, testing and again, this is the first time we played together. A lot of adversity and I feel like this is something we do a lot and we’ll accomplish this too. We’re smart players. Smart players, great character and we’ll figure it out in these next two,” Holiday said looking ahead of the two pool games.
- Game Report: France 83, Team USA 76 (with Video) - FIBA.com
- US loses to France 83-76, 25-game Olympic win streak ends - Tim Reynolds - AP
- If shots don’t fall in Olympics, not a surprise when US does - Tim Reynolds - AP
- Team USA falls to France at Tokyo Games for first Olympic men’s basketball loss since 2004 - Brian Windhorst - ESPN
- Team USA loses to France: Is U.S. men’s basketball following path set by 2004 bronze medalists? - Kevin Pelton - ESPN+
- U.S. Men’s Basketball’s Loss to France Is a Reminder That They’re Not the Gold Medal Favorite - Chris Mannix - Sports Illustrated