Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Rudy Gobert and France knock Donovan Mitchell, Team USA out of World Cup medal contention

by Aaron Falk

Donovan Mitchell had a step on his defender and as he got the basket, the guard, with his 6-10 wingspan and otherworldly athleticism, opted for a reverse layup, using the iron to give himself just a little more space. It’s a bucket the Utah Jazz guard has made countless times before. This time, though, Rudy Gobert was wearing a different jersey.

In a moment that surely left Jazz fans torn, Gobert denied Mitchell’s attempt at the rim, securing a historic 89-79 win for France and knocking Team USA out of medal contention in the FIBA World Cup.

Mitchell and Gobert, the two Jazzmen, shined in Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup in Dongguan, China. Mitchell had a game-high 29 points to go with six rebounds and four assists.

"I’m looking at the times there were guys open that I missed. There were possessions on defense where I threw the ball in the backcourt when we were down six. I can care less about the 29 [points]," Mitchell said afterward. "To me what sticks out is the things I did wrong. That’s what’s on everybody’s mind. Anybody could have had a good game. Whether is 29, 9, or 0, we lost."

Gobert, meanwhile, finished with 21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.

Gobert will also have some bragging rights when the two players arrive in Salt Lake City later this month for the start of training camp.

Team USA entered the tournament with plenty of questions about its roster, but still had its sights set on a third straight World Cup title. When Mitchell caught fire in the third quarter of the game, scoring 14 in the frame to erase a 10-point deficit, the Americans looked poised to answer those questions and advance.

Gobert and France had other plans.

The Stifle Tower was a problem on offense, creating mismatches and driving lanes for his teammates and putting pressure on the rim against an undersized U.S. lineup. On defense, Gobert reminded everyone why he is the NBA’s back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year.

"He had a good game. He played physical. He was aggressive and played well for them tonight," U.S. forward Jaylen Brown said of Gobert.

The United States managed to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games during their World Cup run, but will now have to settle for playing Serbia in the tournament’s fifth-place game. The French team will face Argentina in the semifinals.

"I know how I feel. I know how those guys feel, and that’s where my head is at," Mitchell said after the loss. "I know that people are going to focus on who we didn’t have, but how about we focus on who we do have. Our season ended, and we came out ready to work with Coach Pop and all his coaches. It’s not about who’s not here. I’ve been saying that for a while. You guys are going to do your thing, but we have 12 guys who are going to compete for America. Just like every country. It sucks that some of our country people don’t feel that way about us, but we don’t care. We’re going to compete, and we did."

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