DONGGUAN, CHINA -- The United States Men's National Team's 58-game winning streak in (non-exhibition) games with a roster made up entirely of NBA players came to an end on Wednesday with an 89-79 loss at the hands of France in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals. The defeat also brought an end to the Americans' streak of five straight major tournament titles.
For the first time since 2006, the U.S. sent NBA players to a major international tournament and won’t win gold.
“Any loss hurts,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “And in this situation, it hurts more. But life goes on. This is very important and we would have loved to have won ... but we’re all grown, we all have families and lives and life goes on.”
Rudy Gobert was a dominant force for France on both ends of the floor, scoring 21 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking three shots, including two big rejections of Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker in the closing minutes.
"We came here to win gold," Gobert said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. A lot of people counted us out, but we got the win."
Gobert said beating the Americans wasn't the goal -- winning gold is.
"It doesn't mean anything if you don't win in the end," Gobert said.
After a first quarter in which both teams scored just 18 points on 19 possessions, France's offense came alive. Trailing 29-27, the French went on an 18-8 run to build an eight-point lead before Mitchell ended the half with a left-handed running hook.
A four-point play from Nicolas Batum put France up 10 early in the third quarter, but a 23-10 USA run (with Mitchell scoring 12 of the 23 points) to end the third quarter put the Americans up 66-63. They led by as much as seven early in the fourth, but France came back with a 13-2 run to take a six-point lead with less than three minutes to go.
The U.S. shot 4-for-11 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, with Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each missing two in the final three minutes. France converted on enough of their chances at the line, and the U.S. never had a chance to tie.
Mitchell led the United States in scoring, finishing with 29 points on 12-for-23 from the field, but he didn't get enough help. Walker shot 2-for-9, committed four turnovers and didn't have a single assist. Evan Fournier led France with 22 points and was 4 for 8 on 3-pointers.
“Just got to take it like a man at this point,” Walker said. “We lost. There’s nothing we can do. We competed. We’ve been competing since day one that we got to training camp. But we gave it everything we’ve got. I know we’re Team USA and things of that nature and they’ve been winning for a lot of years, but you know, we didn’t get a chance to pull it off.”
France had been 0-9 against the U.S. in major international play, most of those outcomes one-sided affairs. But the last meeting between the nations was only a 100-97 U.S. win at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics three years ago, and France returned three players -- Nando De Colo, Gobert and Batum -- who got minutes in that game.
None of the U.S. players who played that afternoon in Rio are on this year's World Cup team.
Jayson Tatum missed his fourth straight game for Team USA with a left ankle sprain.
France advances to play Argentina in the semifinals on Friday in Beijing, while the U.S. will play Serbia on Thursday in Dongguan in the classification rounds. It can finish as high as fifth.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to tip your cap to them,” Team USA guard Joe Harris said. “They outplayed us. They deserved to win. We certainly didn’t deserve to win that game.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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