The United States men's basketball team lost to France 83-76 in the Olympic preliminary round on Sunday morning. Here are five observations from what went down...
While the exhibition schedule may have prepared everyone for this, and while each loss may be less surprising than the previous one, the defeat the United States suffered against France on Sunday morning in their Olympic opener was a first in 17 years. Not since 2004, when the U.S. men's team lost to Argentina, had they lost to anyone on the Olympic stage.
But France, led by Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier, was too good for the United States, especially late. Fournier's three-pointer with 59.7 seconds left proved pivotal as the U.S. couldn't answer. Soon after, it had one play with three missed shots from three, including wide-open ones taken by Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday. They were only down two, but decided to take three threes anyway to no avail.
Damian Lillard also slipped with about 20 seconds to go for a devastating turnover. The U.S. got the ball in the hands of its best players when it needed them to step up and they just didn't. Perhaps they can close better in future games.
The good news is that this tournament could be very entertaining. It's high-level basketball when Team USA is challenged and the superstars have to separate themselves from the stars. Close games on this stage can open the door for greatness as we saw when Kobe Bryant took over in the gold medal game against Spain in 2008 in Beijing.
Against France, the United States had to work around foul trouble for Durant. He had two fouls in the first quarter and sat for much of the third after picking up his fourth foul. France took the lead while he was on the bench.
The fact the best player on the U.S. got into foul trouble was a bit unexpected given all that has been made about the difference in officiating. These games are supposed to have more contact and fewer fouls than we are used to in the NBA. But as Durant found out, they still won't let you get away with very much.
New guys helped
The U.S. got some reinforcements for this one with three key players from the NBA Finals arriving in Tokyo just in time to make their debut in the opener. Holiday and Khris Middleton of the NBA-champion Milwaukee Bucks were on hand and so was Devin Booker of the Suns, who just lost to the Bucks on Tuesday. Middleton didn't play a ton and Booker had a bit of an uneven game, but Holiday was fantastic. Without him, this game would not have been close.
Holiday had five points off the bench in the first quarter and ended up with team-high 18 points along with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal. He had a few deadly step-back threes. He also played trademark tough defense and just generally made a lot of smart, timely plays to set up others.
Holiday has been a very good player for many years, but hasn't gotten much recognition for it in an era with many stars at his position. But between the Finals and the Olympics in such a short span, he won't be underrated much longer.
Gobert was a problem
The seventh-ranked team in the world, France has several NBA players in its rotation highlighted by Gobert, the three-time NBA defensive player of the year, including this past season. He is also aided by international rules, which do not include a defensive three seconds and allow for players to pull the ball off the rim even if it is partially in the cylinder.
Gobert had a team-high nine rebounds to go along with 14 points, including a series of uncontested dunks, one of them a ferocious putback slam. He defended the rim, even on plays where he had to trail guards off the dribble, and also contested some threes. As the U.S. matched up with him, you could see why they wanted to add JaVale McGee as one of the roster replacements. He is the only player on the team of similar size.
Adebayo played well
Team USA's biggest strength in the frontcourt is versatility with Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green as the starters giving them two guys who can guard multiple positions defensively and impact the offense with their passing. Adebayo did it all against France with 12 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
Adebayo switched seamlessly on defense from guards to wings to bigs and on offense he ran the floor and kept the ball moving with crisp passes. He even made a three. Adebayo standing out in this setting, amongst all the great players on the U.S., and, at only 24 years old, is yet another indication he is a special player with a chance to be a top tier star in the NBA.
During the exhibition schedule, members of Team USA said the goal was to force turnovers and get out on the fastbreak, knowing their speed and athleticism could overwhelm opponents in the open court. They accomplished that in the first half of this game with stingy defense, forcing France to commit nine of 14 turnovers by halftime. That was a big reason why the U.S. led by nine points at the break.
France, though, cleaned that up in the second half and the luck the U.S. had against Fournier ran out. He went off in the second half to score 16 of his 28 points. While he had four turnovers in the first half, he only had one in the second. Fournier shot 11-of-23 from the field and 4-for-13 from beyond the arc.