It had to end sooner or later for Team USA.
After 58 consecutive wins with NBA players in international competition, a diluted Team USA had an earlier-than-expected elimination from the FIBA World Cup following an 89-79 loss to France in the quarterfinals in China.
A strong surge by Team USA was followed by an even stronger close-out by the French, who will advance to the semifinals and play Argentina.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert led the way for the French with 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Evan Fournier tallied 22. The best Team USA can finish now is fifth in the consolation portion of the bracket.
For Team USA, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell led all scorers with 29 points. The Celtics' Kemba Walker struggled all game, finishing with just 10 points on 2-for-9 shooting. His C's teammates Marcus Smart (11 points) and Jaylen Brown (nine points) each played 22 minutes while Boston's Jayson Tatum remained out with an ankle injury.
Late missed free throws by Walker (6-for-8) from the line and Smart (4-for-8) hurt the Americans' comeback chances.
Vincent Poirier of France, signed by the Celtics this offseason, did not play.
As much as the sooner-than-expected loss will be attributed to the Team USA players on the floor, it will be remembered more for those who decided to not participate.
Team USA has still done enough to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but the World Cup proved once again that the Americans aren't quite as deep talent-wise as some might believe.
Of the 12 players on the Team USA roster, they combined for just four All-Star appearances with two of those four coming this past season from Walker and Milwaukee Bucks guard Kris Middleton.
By no means will this loss have any impact of significance on Team USA’s chances at a gold medal in 2020.
Most, if not all, the players on this team will be replaced by the NBA’s top-tier talent who will be even more motivated now to come away with the gold.
Still, the loss hurts because on some levels it serves as yet another reminder of how much the game has become more global not only in terms of interest but also the quality of play.
And when you throw in the chemistry dynamic that was an advantage for the opponents that Team USA played, it shouldn’t come as a total shock that a diluted US squad didn’t just run over teams like we’re accustomed to seeing.
The Celtics quartet of Walker, Brown, Smart and Tatum all had moments of greatness - Walker more than the others - throughout the World Cup.
But they all had their stretches of not-so-great play which, ultimately, was the one common denominator with all of the players on the team.
However, Celtics fans will take delight in having four players on the team who had a chance to play with one another and start making inroads towards establishing better team chemistry than we saw last season.
There’s no question the ending to all this was a disappointment, but no group will benefit from this experience more than the Celtics.
Walker is a three-time All-Star and will be the head of the Celtics’ attack this season. Him having time to play with Brown, Tatum and Smart - all of whom will play major roles this season - gives Boston a much-needed lift heading into the season.
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