SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — The final buzzer sounded and France barely celebrated.
To them, beating the United States again wasn’t really a surprise. And that might be the biggest indicator yet that the Americans — even after three consecutive Olympic gold medals — are no longer feared by other top international teams.
A 25-game Olympic winning streak for the U.S. is over, ending Sunday when France closed the game on a 16-2 run to beat the Americans 83-76 in the Tokyo Games. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer off a broken play with just under a minute left put France ahead for good, as the Americans simply fell apart in the final minutes.
“They are better individually,” Fournier said of the Americans, “but they can be beaten as a team.”
That’s been proven with alarming regularity in the last two years. Starting with France’s win over the U.S. in the Basketball World Cup quarterfinals at China two years ago, the Americans are merely 3-5 in their last eight games with NBA players in the lineup.
The U.S. missed its final nine shots, five of them coming in a 21-second span in the final minute shortly after Fournier — who led all scorers with 28 points — made the go-ahead 3-pointer. Rudy Gobert wildly missed a layup on that play, but Guerschon Yabusele chased down the bouncing rebound and just before he dove into the U.S. bench he made a desperation swipe at the ball in an effort to knock it into Fournier’s direction.
Fournier turned Yabusele’s dive into a dagger, and just like that the Americans are in Olympic trouble.
“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. “We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did.”
The Americans lost for only the sixth time in 144 games at the Olympics all-time, and fell to 53-4 in the Olympics with NBA players on the roster. The 2004 team at the Athens Games lost the other three, and won bronze. Every other U.S. team in the era that started with the “Dream Team” in 1992 won the gold and this one still can — but it’s far from a certainty.
“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised,” Popovich said. “You’re disappointed.”
Fournier had 28 points for France, while Rudy Gobert scored 14 and Nando de Colo had 13. Jrue Holiday had 18 points for the U.S., Bam Adebayo had 12, Damian Lillard 11 and Kevin Durant had 10 for the Americans — who are just 2-3 in their games this summer, the first four of them exhibitions in Las Vegas that weren’t supposed to mean much.
The Olympics, they were supposed to be different.
They weren’t. They lost, again.
“I mean, it’s great,” Gobert said. “But until we have what we want to have around our neck it doesn’t really matter.”