With 3:20 remaining in the fourth, Team USA had a 7 point lead against France. They proceeded to miss nine straight shots, allowing the French to close the game on a 16-2 run and snap the U.S. 25-game winning streak with an 83-76 victory in the Olympic opener.
This is now the USA’s third loss this month under Gregg Popovich— they fell to Nigeria and Australia in back-to-back exhibition games. For comparison, Mike Krzyzewski went 88-1 as Team USA’s head coach since 2005. But losing to France didn’t come as a surprise to Pop.
USA Coach Gregg Popovich on Tokyo Olympic opening loss to France: “When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.”— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 25, 2021
However, the whole basketball world was in shock after the USA’s loss on Sunday, especially since this is clearly not, nor will it be, an isolated case moving forward. The only question is, is that fair on those 12 guys wearing red, white, and blue?
For years, winning the Olympic gold medal was a lock for a basketball team representing the U.S. Then came 2004 and a shocking semi-final loss to Argentina that forced the USA to settle for bronze. The 2008 Redeem Team re-established American dominance on the world stage, followed by two gold medals in 2012 and 2016. But this year might be different.
The 12-man roster representing the U.S in Tokyo is far from the best America has to offer — Steph Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis are among those missing from the team. Nevertheless, it’s ‘gold or bust’ for the Kevin Durant-led group. Is that fair? Not according to Patrick Ewing, who points to Dream Team as standard of success this year’s team is unfairly being held to.
It’s harder to play now because of the Dream Team. All of the current players grew up looking up to us & watching us dominate the rest of the world. But the rest of the world caught up. Some of the NBA’s top players today come from all over the world. It wasn’t like that back then.Patrick Ewing, New York Post
Popovich said something along the same lines after the game. “I think that’s a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the balls and win,” he said. “We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did.”
Two exhibition game losses obviously haven’t been a wake-up call for Team USA. But falling to France better be. Not just because they can and will step it up a notch, but because that’s necessary for them to secure their fourth straight Olympic gold medal. Other teams won’t just hand it out to them, especially since the quality gap is as close as it’s ever been since 2004.
Basketball is a global sport no longer dominated exclusively by Americans. So maybe it’s also time for fans to adjust their expectations accordingly. The cake-walk days are over. Even if Team USA wins it all, it won’t be as easy as it used to be. That’s why losing to France should shock no one. There might be more where that came from.