USA Basketball saw its stranglehold on international hoops come to an end on Wednesday morning. The Americans took on a French squad led by a collection of NBA and high-level international players, and despite a 29-point outing from Donovan Mitchell, France came out on top, 89-79. With the loss, the United States’ 58-game tournament winning streak and dreams of winning its third World Cup in a row came to an abrupt end in the quarterfinals.
While this American side did not have the star power that we’ve seen in previous international tournaments, losing is still a surprise. The United States were the favorites to win the entire tournament behind its roster of 12 NBA players — something no other group boasted — but some of the team’s biggest concerns manifested themselves against the French. The team’s good but not great group of centers ran into the best version of Rudy Gobert, who went for 21 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks, and was a game-high +26. Outside of Mitchell, the team couldn’t overcome a poor shooting night, something that was exacerbated by Jayson Tatum missing the game with an ankle injury and by France’s backcourt duo of Evan Fournier (22 points) and Nando de Colo (18 points) getting buckets. The only All-Stars that wore the red, white, and blue, Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton, went a combined 4-for-16 with 15 points.
Even though the team managed to keep things tight, the eventual dagger came with a little more than two minutes left, when Frank Ntilikina drilled a long two as the shot clock expired to bury the Americans.
Frank Ntilikina hitting big shots against team USA 👀🔥 pic.twitter.com/Uajbi68Fo4
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 11, 2019
Despite all of this, the team’s tournament is not over. The World Cup’s final standings exist so that each team that participates gets ranked, 1-32. This means the United States has two games left and can finish anywhere from fifth through eighth — one game will occur on Thursday against Serbia (which lost to Argentina on Tuesday), the other will occur on Saturday against either Poland or the Czech Republic, the latter of whom the Americans beat in group play, 88-67.
There’s something funny about getting the highly-anticipated showdown between Serbia and the United States in the consolation bracket, but hopefully it’s still a really good game, one that gives a look at what could occur at the 2020 Olympics with a gold medal on the line. On that note, as Marc Stein of the New York Times points out, the Americans already had their tickets punched for Tokyo next summer before they took the floor on Wednesday by nature of them being one of the two-best teams from the Western Hemisphere at the World Cup, the other being Argentina.
It stands to reason that the roster that goes to Tokyo looks much different than the one that took the floor in Beijing, but we’ll have to wait until next summer to see what that looks like. In the meantime, there are still games to be played, even though the United States’ quest for an unprecedented third World Cup gold medal in a row ended at the hands of the French.