SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — For the first time since 2004, the U.S. men’s basketball team has lost in the Olympics, and the Americans’ quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal is already in serious trouble.
France — the team that knocked the Americans out of contention in the Basketball World Cup two years ago — dealt the U.S. a major blow once again. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer with just under a minute left put France ahead to stay in what became a 83-76 win over the Americans on Sunday in the opening game for both teams at the Tokyo Olympics.
The U.S. had won 25 consecutive Olympic games, last losing at the Athens Games 17 years ago and settling for a bronze medal there.
“I think that’s a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the balls and win,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did.”
Fournier had 28 points for France, while Rudy Gobert scored 14 and Nando de Colo had 13. Jrue Holiday had 18 points for the U.S., Bam Adebayo had 12, Damian Lillard 11 and Kevin Durant had 10 for the Americans — who are just 2-3 in their games this summer, the first four of them exhibitions in Las Vegas that weren’t supposed to mean much.
The Olympics, they were supposed to be different.
They weren’t. Going back to the World Cup in China two years ago, the Americans are 3-5 in their last eight games with NBA players in the lineup.
“I mean, it’s great,” Gobert said. “But until we have what we want to have around our neck it doesn’t really matter.”
The idea of anyone else leaving an Olympics with gold hasn’t been all that realistic in recent years. Now, it’s very real.
A 10-point U.S. lead in the third quarter was wasted, and so was a 12-point barrage from Holiday in the opening 4 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter as the Americans went from six points down to start the period to six points up with 5:23 remaining.
The lead was seven with 3:30 left. France outscored the U.S. 16-2 from there, and the Americans missed all nine of their shots — five of them in a 21-second span on the same trip down the floor in the final minute, three of those from 3-point range.
The dagger came off a broken play; Guerschon Yabusele dove to save a ball from going out of bounds on the French offensive end, flailing and slapping it to Fournier. He caught the ball in front of the U.S. bench and made a 3-pointer that put France up for good with 57 seconds remaining.
“Evan was amazing,” France coach Vincent Collet said. “I don’t want to use big, big, big words, but he made some very big shots.”
The loss doesn’t knock the U.S. out of medal contention, but it essentially eliminates the margin for error. The Americans play Iran on Wednesday and then the Czech Republic on Saturday in its final two Group A games; win both of those, and the U.S. will be in the quarterfinals. Lose another one, and the Americans might not even finish in the top eight of this 12-team tournament.
The lead was 10 for the U.S. early in the third quarter after Durant scored the opening basket of the second half. But the offense went into a complete sputter for much of that period — and that, combined with Durant’s foul trouble, led to big problems.
The Americans scored three points in a seven-minute span of the third, Durant picked up his fourth foul — the FIBA limit is five, remember — with 16:45 left in the game, and that once-comfortable lead was soon gone. De Colo’s 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining in the third put France up 55-54, its first lead since the game’s first four minutes.
De Colo connected again for a 59-56 lead, then Thomas Huertel made another 3 late in the third to put France up 62-56 going to the final quarter.
It was the first time the U.S. and France played since the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup two years ago, a game that the Americans lost. France has seven players on its Olympic roster from that team; the U.S. has only two, but the importance wasn’t lost on the other 10 — who’d heard plenty about it.
The U.S. was outrebounded in that game 44-28, gave up 22 points off turnovers and got outscored 22-5 in the final 7 ½ minutes. The final was France 89, U.S. 79, a loss that eliminated the Americans from medal contention and sent them freefalling to a seventh-place finish that was the worst ever by USA Basketball in any tournament with NBA players.
And in a largely empty arena near Tokyo on Sunday night, France did it again — dealing the U.S. an even bigger blow.
France: Frank Ntilikina missed the game, with the French federation saying he continues to deal with “slight muscle discomfort.” … France took the game’s first nine free throws. The U.S. didn’t shoot one until JaVale McGee went to the line with 8:27 left in the second quarter. … Yabusele left the game briefly with 1:30 left in the half after going knee-to-knee with Holiday.
USA: Durant had three fouls in the first half, something that’s happened only 10 times in his last 544 NBA appearances. … The U.S. used 11 of its players in the first half, with Jerami Grant the only one who didn’t get into the game.
Durant moved into outright possession of the No. 4 spot on the U.S. men’s all-time Olympic appearances list. He’s now played in 17 games, behind only Carmelo Anthony (31), LeBron James (24) and David Robinson (24). There are 15 players with 16 Olympic appearances.
France: Face the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
USA: Face Iran on Wednesday.
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