If there was still any question, the USA's 2021 Olympic opener proved they are no longer the dominant force in international basketball.
After leading by as many as 10 points in the first half, the United States was outscored 13-0 in the deciding moments of the fourth quarter before going on to lose 83-76 to France in the first game of group play for both teams at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
"We let one get away, but it’s a lot of things that we could have done better, including making shots," said Damian Lillard. "Some moments it’s trying too hard to do the right thing. Instead of just being who we are, you know, the best players in the NBA. Shots just didn't fall. We had opportunities down the stretch, didn't make ‘em."
The loss snaps a 25-game winning streak in Olympic play for the United States. Their last such loss came at the 2004 Olympics in Athens to Argentina.
Perhaps Sunday’s loss should not come as much of a surprise considering the United States lost to Nigeria and Australia in back-to-back to start their minicamp in Las Vegas. But when they followed up those losses with back-to-back wins versus Argentina and Spain before departing for Japan, one could at least argue they were rounding into form.
And when the USA went on a 16-4 run to take a 22-13 lead late in the first quarter against a good French side featuring the likes Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum, it seemed as though they left the issues they experienced in Las Vegas back in the desert.
But after taking a nine-point lead into the halftime intermission, the United States was thoroughly outplayed in the third quarter. Fournier and Nando De Colo led a French attack that used a 22-7 run to outscore the Americans 25-11 in the quarter and take a 62-56 advantage into the fourth.
"It was a little bit frustrating, because you don't want to come out and lose your first one, especially when we had a 10-point lead at one point, a nine-point lead at another point and another nine point," said Lillard. "And it was like, those are the moments where instead of relaxing, you got to put your foot down, step on the gas and try to create that separation. And we didn't do that. You see that. When you let teams hang around, and they get comfortable, and they get an opportunity and you put yourself in a dogfight."
A 13-1 run by the United States to start the final quarter put the Americans up 69-63 with 5:25 to play, once again giving the impression that any difficulties they might have experienced, either in the first three quarters or the run up to the Olympics, were only temporary. But the French would respond by scoring 13-straight and eventually holding the United States to just two points in the final three minutes and 41 seconds of play to come away with the seven-point victory.
"They just played a better game than we did," said Lillard. "They made shots when it counted. They got deflections. I had a shot I passed up, that I should have shot. I swung it – It got stolen. A couple possessions later, I was getting ready to shoot, and I just slip and fall. I turned to try to get the ball, and my leg just lifted in the air. And as you know, the rules are different. And just a couple of things didn't go our way down the stretch. We let one get away. But it’s a lot of things that we could have done better, including making shots."
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard started at point guard for the United States and finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field, three assists, three rebounds and a steal in 27 minutes. Jrue Holiday, just a few days removed from winning the 2021 NBA Championship with the Milwaukee Bucks, finished with 18 points in just under 28 minutes. Bam Adebayo added 12 and Kevin Durant, who played 21 minutes due to foul trouble, contributed 10. The United States shot just 36 percent from the field and 31 percent from three.
Fournier led all scorers with 28 points on 11-of-22 shooting. Gobert had 14 points and nine assists and De Colo finished with 13 points in 32 minutes.
Even with the loss, the United States are still likely to advance to the knockout round, as eight of the 12 teams move on to the quarterfinals. But to ensure a chance at a medal, they’ll need to win their two remaining games in Group A, starting with Tuesday’s game versus Iran at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. Tipoff is scheduled for 9:40 p.m. Pacific on the Peacock App.