By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO
For the first time in 17 years, the United States Olympic men’s basketball team lost.
Evan Fournier scored a game-high 28 points and Rudy Gobert added 14 points and nine boards to lift Team France to an 83-76 win over the United States in a Group A preliminary round game of the Tokyo Olympics at Japan’s Saitama Super Arena on Sunday.
In the final minutes of regulation Team USA went cold from the field – missing its final nine shot attempts – as France completed a 16-2 scoring run to end the game, handing the Americans their first loss since the 2004 Athens Olympics while snapping the U.S.’s 25-game win streak.
France not only shot 46.8% from the field while holding Team USA to 36.2% shooting from the field, but won the rebounding duel 42 to 36.
The U.S. led 22-15 after the first quarter and 45-37 at the half, but France began to chip away and eventually gained control of the game in the third quarter. Entering the fourth, France was ahead 62-56 with the momentum clearly going its way.
U.S. guard Jrue Holiday, just coming off an NBA championship run with the Milwaukee Bucks, led a comeback rally over the course of the fourth with 12 points in the quarter that helped his team regain a six-point lead with 5:25 remaining in the game.
Guard Zach LaVine added a 3-pointer and Devin Booker’s two free throws put the Americans up, 74-67, with 3:41 left. It was at that point that everything went downhill for Team USA.
Fournier’s go-ahead 3-pointer just under the one-minute mark gave France a 76-74 lead and the team connected on late-game free throws, in addition to holding the U.S. to 4-of-14 shooting in the fourth quarter, to seal the historic win.
The loss doesn’t summarily eliminate the U.S. from gold medal contention, but makes the path to a first-place finish more arduous, perhaps, with high-caliber teams like Spain competing for the same Olympic glory.
“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 after the loss. “We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did.”
Holiday came off the bench to lead Team USA with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Kevin Durant, who got in early foul trouble, finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting while Damian Lillard scored 11 and Bam Adebayo poured in 12 points and 10 rebounds.
As sportswriter Tim Reynolds put it, Team USA is “no longer feared by other top international teams” as the game of basketball has increasingly become more global. The U.S. also lost to Nigeria and Australia in recent exhibition games.
En route to another Olympic gold, the U.S. has to make another of adjustments, and holding on to late-game leads are one of them, suggested Holiday.
“We were up 10, nine a couple of times. There’s times when we really gotta put people away when we have those advantages,” Holiday said. “We still have a chance to accomplish our goal, and being consistent is the best way of doing it.”
The U.S. will return to action Wednesday against Iran.
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