The U.S. men’s basketball team suffered its first global tournament loss in 13 years, beaten by France 89-79 in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday.
The U.S., which was bidding for the first World Cup three-peat but without any NBA superstars, will leave worlds in China without a medal.
“It’s not about, well, the United States didn’t have their other guys,” said U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, at his first tournament since succeeding Mike Krzyzewski. “There’s no such thing as other guys. These are the guys that were here.
“It’s also a disrespectful notion to even bring something like that up, that, hey you guys didn’t have this guy and that guy. That’s disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us. It doesn’t matter who was on the team.”
The Americans had won 58 straight games with NBA players among the Olympics, World Cup and FIBA Americas since its last defeat in the 2006 World Cup semifinals to Greece.
The Americans, led by Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (29 points), battled back from a 10-point, third-quarter deficit to lead by seven early in the fourth.
But France, with Rudy Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds), went on an 11-point run in the fourth to retake the lead and advance to a Friday semifinal against Argentina. A full box score is here.
“I don’t know how to describe,” Gobert said on ESPN2 of France’s first-ever win over the U.S. after nine losses between the Olympics and worlds and 21 losses when including the U17, U19 and World University Games levels. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. … It’s probably the kind of game you’re going to talk about in 20 years. We’ve got to take it all in.”
Spain gets Australia in the other semifinal. Spain and France clinched 2020 Olympic spots as the last two remaining European teams, making it eight teams qualified so far for the tournament. The others are Japan, Australia, Iran, Nigeria, the U.S. and Argentina.
This U.S. team was deemed vulnerable after every NBA superstar withdrew from World Cup roster consideration.
What was left was a roster with two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton) and one player with Olympic experience (Harrison Barnes).
“You guys are going to go on and say who we didn’t have, but why don’t you all focus on who we do have?” Mitchell said. “We came ready to work for coach Pop.”
Walker, the team leader in the backcourt, struggled Wednesday with twice as many turnovers as made field goals (2 for 9). The Americans also got beat in the paint, outrebounded 44-28.
“Of course, people are going to say it was a big upset because of who we are and what this team has done in the past,” Walker said.
The concern for this team was first confirmed with a pre-tournament loss to Australia, snapping a 78-game win streak with NBA players when including exhibitions. Then tested again in group play last week, when the U.S. eked past 17th-ranked Turkey by one point in overtime.
The U.S., which qualified for the 2020 Olympics by advancing out of group play, was due for a step up in competition by starting knockout play against France.
The French have five NBA players, including Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum. They challenged the Americans at the Rio Olympics, losing 100-97 in group play.
The U.S. plays Serbia in a consolation-round game Thursday in a rematch of the Rio Olympic final.
“Any loss hurts,” Popovich said. “This situation, it hurts more.”
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