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Everyone knew this wasn’t going to be easy for Team USA. Everyone proved to be correct early Wednesday morning, when the U.S. was stunned by France in the FIBA World Cup in China.
The verdict: France 89, U.S. 79 and now the best the American can finish is fifth.
So how did it happen?
Basically, it came down to rebounds. French center Rudy Gorbert (Utah Jazz) led the way in that department, with 24 points, a whopping 16 boards and three blocked shots. Gobert pretty much had his way with U.S. center Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers) and anything else the Americans tried to throw Gobert’s way.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a while,” Gobert told reporters in China. “When I was a kid and watching this game … I was thinking there was going to be short window of time when we were going to do it. I was thinking that before the game and thought we might never get the opportunity again.”
Defense was an issue, too. Right away, the U.S. struggled to contain Gobert and swingman Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic), who finished with 22 points. The Americans fell behind by eight points early and never recovered.
France kept the U.S. at bay for most of the first two quarters, maintaining a six-point lead at halftime. That led to coach Gregg Popovich using a smaller, quicker lineup in the third quarter — and it almost worked.
Donovan Mitchell (Jazz) scored 13 points in the third and the U.S. rallied to take a 66-63 lead. But that was about the extent of the good stuff, as the French reasserted themselves in the fourth, owning the paint and keeping the U.S. under control from the perimeter.
Mitchell scored a game-high 29 points, but backcourt-mate Kemba Walker struggled to the tune of 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting. France finished the game on a 22-5 run.
“Any loss hurts,” Popovich said. “This situation hurts more, but life goes on.”
The U.S. next plays Serbia in the consolation round Thursday morning. This was the Americans’ first loss in Olympic or World Cup competition since 2006, a 58-game winning streak.