The U.S. men’s basketball team looked disjointed and underwhelming in tune-ups, but those were just practice. Practice, apparently, for looking disjointed and underwhelming in their Olympic debut, an 83-76 loss to France in the first game of group play. Zut alors!
Team USA saw its 25-game win streak, dating back to the 2004 Athens games, snapped by a sprightly and cohesive French squad that erased a seven-point deficit in the final minutes by going on a 16-2 run. Evan Fournier led all scorers with 28 points, and when a vaunted defensive squad like the U.S. has no answers for Evan freaking Fournier, you start to think they might be in real trouble.
Even with relatively quiet games from Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant, who fouled out, the Americans could have avoided the upset if they hadn’t shot like dogshit in the game’s closing minutes.
The U.S. didn’t sink a single field goal over the game’s final four-plus minutes. It was more than a little depressing to see a whole lot of standing around and a real antipathy for driving the lane, perhaps as a result of FIBA refs, who are much less likely to call fouls than their NBA counterparts. Some—not all—of this USA squad rely to varying degrees on barreling into contact and getting the whistle, but a few exhibitions and most of this game have taught them that they can’t rely on that. Hence a rain of threes, and there wasn’t much of a Plan B for what to do when those clank.
Another factor discouraging the U.S. from playing inside is the makeup of the roster—a whole bunch of midsize scorers, and not a ton of off-ball movers or big men. France, paced by a pair of seven-footers in Rudy Gobert and Vincent Poirier playing alongside each other, routinely won the battles down low, outscoring the U.S. in the paint 32-28, and 16-7 on second-chance points. I’m not sure what can be done about this—Bam Adebayo played heavy starter’s minutes, and generally shined—but the U.S. seems ripe for getting pushed around.
The loss is far from a killer for Team USA, but it’s probably the only one they’re allowed. They play Iran on Wednesday and the Czech Republic on Saturday, and likely have to win both to even advance to the quarterfinals. They should win both. But this wasn’t a heartening start.