First it was “it’s just Nigeria.” Then “it’s only Australia.”
The USA lost those two exhibition games heading into Tokyo which wouldn’t have worried head coach Gregg Popovich too much.
But now, there is no ignoring their latest loss, going down 81-74 to France in their Olympic opener.
This might give the Spurs mentor some sleepless nights until they meet Iran on Wednesday; an opportunity to snap back to winning form. This was their first loss at the Olympics since 2004.
Post match Popovich told media that people shouldn’t be surprised that Team USA lost to France in their first game in Tokyo.
“There are a lot of great teams around the world, made of NBA players. The gap is shrinking every year,” he said.
ESPN’s NBA analyst Tim Legler said Team USA should feel a sense of embarrassment about the loss.
“This, in a lot of ways could be a good thing for them,” Legler said.
“It could be a wake-up call. This is certainly not the way you wanted to start this. They’re going to get better the longer they’re together.
“When the talent discrepancy is not nearly as it used to be, you’re going to run into some problems when you play a against a team that has got some NBA players on it.”
Patrick Ewing, a member of the 1992 Barcelona chort, suggested their dominance and skill had lit a fire under players around the world, and that was coming back to bite the Americans.
“It’s an unfortunate time we’re living in, losing players to COVID-19 protocols,” said Ewing. “It’s harder to play now because of the Dream Team. All the current players grew up looking up to us and watching us dominate the rest of the world. But the rest of the world caught up.”
NBA fans took to Twitter to rip Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who got himself into early foul trouble and fouled out, saying he’s probably going to sign with Argentina or France to try to win the Gold Medal. Some fans are calling it a late-game meltdown.
The Wall Street Journal said it was a stunning loss and that “alarm bells are ringing.”
CEO, founder of The Ringer Bill Simmons took to Twitter to predict a Slovenia-France men’s basketball final, pitting Luka Doncic against Evan Fournier. “Hopefully we (USA) can steal a bronze,” he wrote.
But too much was left to too few.
There was high praise for 31-year old Jrue Holiday who scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds and showed no signs of jet lag after winning his NBA chip with the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this week.
Bam Adebayo double-doubled going 12p-10r in a familiar defensive performance. Outside of those two it was hard to find true winners.
Portland’s Damian Lillard only mustered up 11 points in 27 minutes shooting at 30 percent from the field. Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker, just off a plane, shot four points in 18 minutes. Durant hit 10 points in 20 minutes shooting at 16.7 percent outside the arc.
Tatum also struggled with his outside shooting hitting one-from-five. Milwaukee Bucks Champion Kris Middleton and Spurs guard Keldon Johnson failed to score.
Their only signs of life came in a four-minute block in the fourth quarter. It’s the only time they really looked desperate. And that’s when they went on a 16-5 run and looked to have the game on their terms.
As much as France deserves all the credit for the win, Team USA, who had the more talented roster, looked tired and lacked connection: they fell in love with the three, no-one was crashing the boards and looking for inside runs, and players were camped at the three-point line stationary – The US were 10-from-32 for threes. On the defensive end, there were too many open looks for France.
But France kept pushing, seemed to have more chemistry and were hungrier on the 50-50 balls. Their determination led to a 14-0 run in the last three minutes to secure the seven point win.
Celtics guard Evan Fournier had a game high for France with 28 points at 50 per cent from the field and four rebounds. He had support from Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
“We all just, I think, just trying too hard … instead of just being who we are — the best players in the NBA,” Lillard said. “Shots just didn’t fall. We had opportunities down the stretch, just didn’t make them.”
He does believe the team can recover.
“I think we are more than capable of doing it,” Lillard said.
“We have a history of dominance and maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning. And it’s not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start.
“I think that’s why a lot of people will make it seem like the end of the world, but our job as professionals and this team and representing our country at the Olympics, we’ve got to do what’s necessary and we still can accomplish what we came here to accomplish, and we’ve got to make sure we keep that in mind.”
The loss for Team USA is a real wake-up call for sure, but their draw should save them: their next two games are against Iran and Czech Republic. It gives them more time together to improve. But before we lock those wins in just remember we all thought they’d beat Nigeria, Australia and France and that didn’t happen.