TOKYO — The United States men’s basketball team lost its Olympic opener here on Sunday, dropping a back-and-forth contest to a very good France team, 83-76, for its first Olympic loss since 2004.
That doesn’t eliminate the Americans from gold medal contention. This is just group play and the U.S. should be able to advance to the knockout rounds that begin later in these Olympics.
However, it is the latest alarm that this team, which has dealt with roster turnover and late-arriving players, is in for a considerable challenge in its effort to win the United States its 16th gold medal in 19 Olympics. The Americans have taken the last three Olympic titles. The U.S. was -350 to win gold before its opening game, per BetMGM.
Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics torched the U.S. for 27 points while Utah’s Rudy Gobert had 12 points and nine rebounds and controlled the paint defensively for France.
Jrue Holiday, fresh off a trans-Pacific flight after helping Milwaukee win the NBA title last week, led the Americans with 18 points. Star Kevin Durant, however, shot the ball poorly (4 of 12) and dealt with foul trouble (eventually fouling out). He finished with just 10 points.
That isn’t going to cut it.
The Americans are a thrown-together roster. A number of top players chose to avoid the COVID restrictions of Japan and instead rest up for the NBA season. Two players were lost due to COVID and an injury.
And three key players — Holiday, Bucks teammate Khris Middleton and Phoenix's Devin Booker — played in the NBA Finals last week and didn’t reach the team hotel until a little after 1 a.m. Sunday, less than 18 hours before tip.
Those excuses are about all the U.S. has to hang its hat on right now.
Durant won’t be this bad again. The NBA Finals trio will get acclimated to the time zone, after Booker was a dreadful 1 of 6 from the floor and Middleton hardly played. The roster will continue to jell.
But who knows?
The Americans lost two exhibition games in their preparation for the Olympics and it’s clear this roster isn’t capable of just overwhelming good teams that these days are loaded with their own NBA talent. This isn’t 1992 anymore. Or even 2008. On either side of the court.
The U.S. will need huge efforts going forward from Durant and Damian Lillard, who also shot poorly, hitting just three of his 10 shots. The Americans went just 10 of 32 from 3-point range, including missing three wide-open shots on a critical late fourth-quarter possession that essentially sealed the game.
The U.S. will play the Republic of Iran on Wednesday.
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