Team USA’s dominance in Olympic basketball has gone on for so long that a loss for them is a monumental upset regardless if their opponents are ranked just a few spots behind them.
That aforementioned dominance however, is now shaky at best as the 83-76 loss they suffered at the hands of the French Men’s Basketball Team brought back shades of the 2004 Men’s Basketball Olympic Team that also lost their opener and eventually settled for the bronze medal.
With the loss, the US’ 25-game winning streak in Men’s Basketball dating back to the 2004 Olympics was snapped and basketball Twitter did not hold back:
France’s huge win was another lesson in cohesion being greater than star power. Sure, the French are number seven in the world and had eight players with NBA experience, but most of their roster had played together for many years already.
This type of cohesion will be something the Americans will have to face moving forward, as the other top-four teams like Spain (2nd), Australia (3rd), and Argentina (4th) have had the type of continuity in their programs that have helped them stay within relatively striking distance of the US.
The United States looked poised to take control of the opener after two Devin Booker free throws with 3:41 left in the game gave them a 74-67 lead. However, France would close out the game on a 9-2 run thanks in part to 3-pointers from Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier. Their two 3-painters were particularly painful as the former had not made a field goal until then, while the latter made the shot off a pass from Guerschon Yabusele, who dove and flipped the ball to Fournier.
Both teams actually had solid ball movement throughout the game, but it was the French’s discipline in staying the course that helped them take the victory in the end. Finding the open man may have taken time, but it led to easy baskets for the likes of Yabusele and Rudy Gobert.
Ball movement for the US was crisp at times, but they fell in love with the 3-pointer too much and veered towards a more iso-heavy offense that more often than not resulted in ill-advised shots. Extra passes were a common sight but they are double-edged swords as they can lead to good shots or terrible turnovers that can bite them in the back.
The game against France also exposed Team USA’s vulnerability especially against teams with big men who can capitalize on their advantages in the paint. Moving forward, the Americans need to figure out how to deal with big men, as they will likely face the Gasol brothers and a host of other big men from Australia, Nigeria, and Slovenia. It’s not so much about smarts that will be tough for them to handle, but having a frontline of Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green, Jerami Grant, and JaVale McGee may be concerning especially with international rules in play.
Their talent and athletic ability could still help them on defense. Increasing pressure and forcing turnovers is something that Team USA naturally thrives off. France had 14 turnovers to USA’s 12 and among the teams in the field, the US is the most unstoppable on the fast break.
Apart from that, the US will have to find offense outside of Durant and the occasional 3-pointer coming off Team USA’s talent. Foul trouble hounded Durant, who finished with 10 points on 12 shots against France, and continues to be an issue as Team USA grapples with officiating that deviates from how it’s done in the NBA.
In the opener against the French, it was Jrue Holiday who came up big, especially in the fourth quarter. The newly minted champion finished with 18 points and went on solo runs to keep the Americans in the game. Making this feat more incredible is that Holiday, along with Booker and Khris Middleton competed in the NBA finals and arrived less than 24 hours before the opener.
In the end, it will be about getting the first option and the best shots possible, and when that fails it is best to find other options altogether. Talent alone won’t win these games, especially with international play giving more leeway for defenses to impose their will on opposing teams.
The game against France was one that went both ways and the key for the French was in their ability to adjust to what the US was throwing at them. Team USA was fixated on defending the 3-pointer, but what did considerable damage to them were inside baskets that opened things up.
While US head coach Greg Popovich continues to harp on the world getting better, it can only do so much to defend how this team plays. The rest of the world will only get better with time and repeating it like a broken record will not mask the ineffectiveness of USA Basketball’s once successful practice of quickly assembling a roster and hoping it sticks. The difference in FIBA rules with that of the NBA has been a struggle especially for most of the roster, considering how physicality is a different animal in the international game.
Nothing worth having comes easy, except if you’re the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016 editions of Team USA. The rest of this current sqaud’s preliminary schedule looks to be much easier as they take on the 23rd-ranked Iran on July 28 before taking on the 12th-ranked Czech Republic on July 31.
Team USA entered the competition with more questions than answers and yesterday’s results against France point to how things remain uncertain for the back-to-back-to-back Olympic champions. A gold medal certainly remains within reach, but all things considered, this is a steeper uphill climb.