The United States men’s basketball team brought its recent woes to Tokyo.
The issues that surfaced in the team’s exhibition games carried into the Olympic Games as the U.S. lost its opener to France in stunning fashion, falling 83-76. It was Team USA’s first loss in the Olympics since 2004.
“You have to be honest. Look at their roster. They have guys that are really tired from the trip, playing in NBA Finals and all that,” said France’s Evan Fournier, who had a game-high 28 points. “We know they aren’t at full strength yet. Still, it was a very good win for us, regardless.”
One game that does little to ease the concerns about the U.S. team and its international competition no longer serving as a mere stepping stone on the Americans’ path to gold.
A fourth straight gold medal might not come as easy for a United States team that has lost three of the last five games, including exhibitions.
The U.S., however, put itself in position to win during what was a back-and-forth affair. The team turned what was a 62-56 deficit entering the fourth into a 74-67 lead with 3:41 remaining in the game thanks to the heroics of recently-crowned NBA champion Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Holiday scored 12 of the United States’ first 13 points in the fourth quarter, including a corner 3 that rattled in for a four-point lead. After a 3 by Zach LaVine and pair of free throws by Devin Booker, the U.S. went up 74-67 and seemed destined for victory.
France then closed the game on a 16-2 run.
Nicolas Batum hit a 3 and Fournier followed with a jumper to pull within 74-72. Rudy Gobert then cut the deficit to one with a free throw.
Following a wild shot attempt on the ensuing possession by Gobert, Guerschon Yabusele made a diving stop to save the ball from going out of bounds. He deflected it to Fournier, who hit a 3 that capped a 9-0 run and gave France a 76-74 lead with 57 seconds remaining.
Kevin Durant and Holiday missed potential go-ahead 3s in the final minute. A turnover by the U.S. while trailing 78-74 with 17 seconds remaining all but sealed it as France’s run extended to 14-0.
A shocked U.S. team walked off the court, its 24-game winning streak snapped.Gobert had 14 points and nine rebounds for France. Holiday had a team-high 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Team USA, which next plays Iran on Wednesday. Adebayo added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Durant, hampered by foul trouble all game, finished with 10 points in 20 minutes.
Gregg Popovich elected to start Durant, Adebayo, LaVine, Draymond Green and Damian Lillard in Team USA’s Olympic opener.
The U.S. went on a 16-4 run in the first, capped by buckets in transition by Holiday and Jayson Tatum, that opened a 22-13 lead with 1:23 left in the quarter.
The U.S. applied a switch-heavy defense that helped force six first-quarter turnovers. France, which shot 30.8 percent in the first, was held without a field goal over the final five minutes of the quarter.
The lead reached 10 in the second quarter and the U.S. carried a 45-37 lead into the break after its 3-point shooting came alive, with Lillard going 3 of 6 from deep in the half. France went just 1-for-11 from deep in the half.
That changed in the third as Fournier drained a pair of 3s early and went on to score 10 points in the quarter to put France in front.
Nando De Colo hit a 3 with 2:40 left in the quarter to put France up 55-54, the team’s first lead since 9-8 in the first. The U.S. was limited to two field goals over the final nine minutes of the quarter as France ended the third on a 22-7 run to take a 62-56 lead.
The U.S. had a comeback in them, but France countered with another of its own. That sent the winners of three-straight gold medals to an alarming 0-1 start.
“It’s group stage,” Fournier said. “The goal for us is to go as far as we can. It’s a hell of our win, and our country will be extremely proud, but it’s just one game.”