U.S. basketball falter in Olympics opener

Tokyo (July 25, 2021) – The U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (0-1) started its Tokyo Olympic Games campaign with an 83-76 loss to France (1-0) in Group A play Sunday night at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

After clawing back from a six-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, the U.S. led 74-67 with just 3:41 remaining. But the three-time defending gold medalists couldn’t hold on, with NBA veterans Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert inspiring a late France comeback.

“We let one get away,” U.S. point guard Damian Lillard said. “There’s a lot of things we could have done better, including making shots.”

Coming straight to Tokyo after helping the Milwaukee Bucks win the NBA title on Wednesday, Jrue Holiday led the U.S. with 18 points, 12 of which came during a fourth-quarter burst that helped the USA take back the lead.

Lillard added 11 for the USA, while forward Kevin Durant scored 10, though he spent most of the game in foul trouble, sitting much of the third quarter and playing just over 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Fournier scored a game-high 28 points, while Gobert tallied 14 points and nine rebounds and provided an imposing presence inside for FIBA’s seventh-ranked men’s federation in the world.

“The French team played very consistent basketball on both ends of court and did a great job,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s our goal going forward, to be more consistent.”

The loss snapped a 25-game Olympic win streak for the U.S. men and comes on the heels of a rocky leadup to the Tokyo Olympics in which the team, albeit with a shorthanded roster, lost two of its four exhibition matches.

Fournier got off to a hot start for France with eight first-quarter points. His 3-pointer gave France an early 9-6 lead. But the Americans ratcheted up their defense after that, allowing just six points over the final 6:49 of the frame. On the offensive end, Durant and Bam Adebayo combined for 13 points to help the U.S. build a 22-15 first quarter lead.

France answered each U.S. attempt to pull away in the second, however. Gobert’s third dunk of the quarter cut the U.S. lead to 37-33 and prompted a timeout with 2:46 remaining in the half. USA guard Zach LeVine scored five straight points, and Holiday hit a 3 with the shot clock running down to stretch the lead to 10. A Gobert put-back dunk with 26 seconds left, however, made the score 45-37 heading into halftime.

France dominated the third quarter, outscoring the U.S. 25-11 behind 10 points from Fournier to put the USA in a 62-56 hole. Durant picked up his fourth foul with 6:45 remaining in the third period, prompting Popovich to leave him on the bench until the final quarter.

The U.S. clawed back in the fourth behind a burst from Holiday and a cold shooting stretch from France. Holiday arrived at the team hotel early Sunday morning with fellow NBA Finals participants Khris Middleton and Devin Booker, but Holiday still found the energy and aggression to help spark the U.S. The recently crowned NBA champion scored 12 points in a 13-1 U.S. run over the first 4:36 of the fourth that gave the favorites a 69-63 lead.

“It’s just a testament to his character and his competitiveness, he kept us in the game,” Popovich said. “That’s just who he is.”

But once again France answered, with Guerschon Yabusele scoring two baskets in the paint. A LaVine 3 and two Booker free throws made the score 74-67 with less than four minutes to go.

Batum, who was active defensively throughout the game, hit his first basket of the night to cut the lead to 74-70. Following a Durant miss, a Fournier jumper brought France within two. Adebayo then missed two free throws and Gobert hit one before a Lillard turnover.

With just over a minute remaining, Gobert missed a shot from close range, but Yabusele dove for the loose ball just before it went out of bounds. He got it to Fournier, who drained a 3 to give France a 76-74 lead with 57 seconds remaining, and France held on for the win.

“We have to be more consistent,” Popovich said. “We had two nine-point leads and one 10-point lead, and then an eight-point lead at the end of the game, and we gave all of those up because of lack of consistent defense, too many errors, and on offense dry possessions where we didn’t move and took ill-advised shots.”

“We have to continue to get better,” added U.S. forward Draymond Green. “We haven’t been together that long, but we’ve been together long enough to have that consistency. We have to defend better down the stretch and close games out.”

The U.S. will continue its gold-medal quest when it matches up with Iran on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 12.40 a.m. ET.

“The next one is the most important one,” Lillard said. “We lost this one tonight. We’ve got to get the next one.”

Featured Image Caption: TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 25: Jrue Holiday #12 of the USA Men’s National Team and Thomas Heurtel #4 of the France Men’s National Team fight for position during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the Saitama Super Arena on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)


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