Mason Plumlee

Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

French toast: Team USA loses to France, won’t medal at FIBA World Cup

6 Comments

Rudy Gobert warned his Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell: “Pass the ball or shoot a really high floater.”

But when he was trying to save Team USA late against Gobert’s France, Mitchell scooped a layup. Gobert tracked it all the way and blocked it.

The arrogance.

The rejection.

An 89-79 loss to France in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals Wednesday ended Team USA’s 58-game winning streak in tournament games with NBA players.

The U.S. will face Serbia tomorrow in the fifth-through-eight-place classification round. Will Team USA care whether it finishes fifth or eighth? The standard is a gold medal, which the U.S. had won in its last five major events – 2008 Olympics, 2010 World Championship, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup, 2016 Olympics. This will be the Americans’ worst finish in a major tournament since at least the 2002 World Championship, where they finished sixth.

Ironically, this is when Americans care most about the FIBA World Cup. The tournament is an afterthought in the U.S. until Team USA loses. A win would’ve maintained an ignorable status quo. Now, it’s a national disaster.

USA Basketball sent a flawed roster to China and felt the consequences. The Americans barely beat Turkey in the first round. They had little margin for error against better competition in the knockout phase, and France just outplayed them.

Mitchell (29 points) appeared as if he might save the U.S. But he didn’t score in the fourth quarter. Even when he was clicking, he stood in stark contrast to numerous other problems.

Kemba Walker (2-for-9 with zero assists and four turnovers) was overwhelmed by France’s perimeter defense. In the rare times he wasn’t, he found even more resistance inside.

The United States’ bigs – Myles Turner, Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee – were ineffective. Going smaller helped create transition opportunities to offset the interior issues, but those problems persisted.

After falling behind by 10 early in the second half, the Americans stormed back to take a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. But they blew it against a France team that knew it belonged. A major culprit: The U.S. shot just 4-for-11 on free throws late.

Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks) dominated both ends. Evan Fournier (22 points) got too much room to operate on the perimeter and took advantage. Nando de Colo (18 points) was more selective, but still found opportunities to do damage.

The United States has already qualified for the 2020 Olympics. Not even France can say that (though Australia beating Czech Republic today would clinch a French berth). But the Americans’ prescription is clear: They need to send better players to Tokyo.

They didn’t for this World Cup, and they reaped what they sowed.

USA advances to World Cup quarterfinals, clinches Olympic berth with win 89-73 vs. Brazil

1 Comment

Before they even stepped on the court Monday in China, Team USA had already clinched a trip to the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals, the eight-team tournament and knockout round of the event. Greece upset the Czech Republic earlier in the day, which locked the Americans into the next round.

However, the USA still wanted the top seed, wanted to go undefeated in group play, and wanted to beat Brazil to secure a berth in the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

The USA got all that with an 89-72 victory over Brazil, behind 16 points each from Kemba Walker and Myles Turner.

The USA will now play France in the first round of the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The French team came into the World Cup as a dark horse to win it all thanks to Rudy Gobert locking down the paint on defense and scorers such as Evan Fournier, Frank Ntilikina, and former Spur Nando De Colo (who has been impressive in FIBA games). If the USA, as expected, knocks off France they likely will face Nikola Jokic and the Serbian team — the biggest threat to the USA in this tournament — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Eliminating Brazil also put the USA into the Tokyo Olympics as one of the top two teams in the World Cup from the Americas (Argentina is the other one still standing). Brazil falls into the qualification tournament next summer before the Games.

Monday was a breakout game for Turner, who has been the USA’s best big man in this tournament (so much so that when he is not on the court Gregg Popovich tends to go with small ball now, Mason Plumlee and Brook Lopez get very little run). Turner scored at the rim, knocked down a Duncanesque 12-foot bank shot multiple times, and finished 8-of-11 shooting, with 8 rebounds and strong defense in the paint as well. Plus, Turner got Brazil coach Aleksander Petrovic ejected when the coach ran on the court to argue that a Turner block on Anderson Varejao was a foul. (Yes, Aleksander Petrovic is the brother of the late, great Drazen Petrovic.)

The USA also got 11 points from Jaylen Brown, who has arguably been the American’s best all-around player in the FIBA tournament. He is being decisive and attacking with the ball, something Celtics fans should love to see after last season.

There was another good sign in this game, the USA’s zone offense has improved. Most teams are going to a matchup zone against the USA (those teams don’t have the athletes to go man-to-man for long stretches) and at times that has frustrated the USA, especially when their threes are not falling (and Team USA was only 8-of-25 in this win from deep). Turkey had real success with it in the game that took the Americans to overtime. Now the USA is doing a better job of getting into the middle and the heart of the zone, and making plays off that. It’s a good sign for what is coming up, because when France plays a zone two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gobert is the guy in the paint.

Brazil kept it close in the first half (43-39 USA at the break) with former NBA player Anderson Varejao working as the fulcrum of the offense. He finished the game with 14 points, as did another former NBA player Leandro Barbosa. Victor Benite led Brazil with 21 points for the game.

The USA pulled away in the second half with an 11-4 run sparked by tighter defense, which led to transition opportunities for the Americans. After that, the game was never really in doubt.

It was a good showing for the Americans because they had nothing on the line but chose not to mail it in. The USA had already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals before they took the court because Greece beat the Czech Republic in an earlier Group K game. (As an aside, Greece needed to win by 12 and have the USA beat Brazil to advance, and the Greeks were up 10 with 5:20 left when Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out — on a terrible call, welcome to FIBA — and ended up winning by just 7.)

Here are the matchups for the first round of the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals:

Argentina-Serbia
USA-France
Spain-Poland
Australia-Czech Republic

The USA vs. France game is Wednesday. If the Americans and Serbians win (both will be favorites) their showdown will come Friday in Beijing. The championship game is Sunday in Beijing.

No surprise: USA tops Czechs 88-67 to open World Cup

Leave a comment

SHANGHAI (AP) — The first big celebratory reaction from the U.S. bench in this World Cup came just a couple of minutes after tipoff, when Myles Turner blocked a shot at the rim. And with that, the tone was set.

There is an emphasis on defense with this U.S. team, and it was evident from the outset of its Group E opener on Sunday. Donovan Mitchell scored 16 points to lead a balanced scoring night, and the Americans steadily pulled away to beat the Czech Republic 88-67 to begin their quest for a third consecutive World Cup title.

“That’s got to be our calling card,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re going to try to execute better and better as time goes on, but defensively we’ve got to put our money there. It’s what we have to be about to have an opportunity.”

Harrison Barnes added 14 points, Kemba Walker scored 13 and Jayson Tatum finished with 10 for the Americans. Turner had seven rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

“As long as we win, that’s all that matters,” Tatum said.

Tomas Satoransky, the former Washington forward who was traded to Chicago over the summer, led the Czechs with 17 points.

While the Americans’ 78-game winning streak in international games with NBA players ended last month with a loss at Australia, their long winning streak in major tournaments continued. It’s now at 54 games, starting with the bronze-medal game of the 2006 world championships and continuing with gold-medal runs at the 2007 FIBA Americas, 2008 Olympics, 2010 world championships, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

“We did a lot of good things,” Mitchell said. “We guarded it well. We’ve got a lot of things we can definitely work on, and I think this is a good start to the tournament.”

The Czechs scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to get within 66-52, but the Americans weren’t threatened. Walker made a 3-pointer to stop the mini-run, found Mitchell in the corner for another 3-pointer that made it 72-52 about a minute later and the outcome was academic from there.

The Czechs had their highlight run early for a quick 11-7 lead, and the couple thousand of their fans in Shanghai — most of them wearing either white or blue team jerseys, with a few Wizards jerseys for Satoransky mixed in there — were roaring.

It didn’t last long.

After a 9-0 run by the Czechs, order was quickly restored. The Americans scored the next 10 points, kick-starting what became a 29-9 run in all, and led by as many as 16 before going into the half with a 43-29 edge.

And it was defense that carried the Americans. Over a 10-minute stretch of the half, the Czechs went 4 for 20 with seven turnovers.

“The chemistry is building,” Barnes said. “Looking forward to it continuing to build.”

TIP-INS

Czech Republic: This was the first World Cup game for the Czechs since 1982, when the tournament was called the world championship and the country was still Czechoslovakia. That nation went 0-3 against the U.S. in past world championship matchups. … Jaromir Bohacik and Vojtech Hruban each scored 13.

U.S.: The Americans started Walker, Mitchell, Tatum, Barnes and Turner. … Mason Plumlee, the only player back from the U.S. 2014 World Cup gold-medal team, was the only player not in U.S. coach Gregg Popovich’s initial 11-man rotation Sunday. Plumlee got his first action in the third quarter. … Walker made all five of his 2-point tries.

Kyle Kuzma’s ankle injury will keep him out of World Cup, Team USA roster now set

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Kyle Kuzma, whose game had matured in recent weeks he soaked up the wisdom of Gregg Popovich and his other USA Basketball teammates, was on the bubble but seemed likely to make Team USA.

“Playing with a team of stars is super fun, you want to play the right way, you want to make that extra pass, you want to play defense at a certain level, up to the USA standard,” Kuzma said last week when the team was training in Los Angeles on his Lakers’ regular practice court.

That is, Kuzma was on his way until he tweaked his ankle. Kuzma was sidelined for the USA loss to Australia on Saturday, and later in the day USA basketball announced that the injury will force Kuzma to miss the World Cup, leading to him withdrawing from Team USA.

That locked the roster in at 15 for the World Cup. It is:

Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets)
Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs)

This roster has one former Olympian on it — Barnes — and just two players who were All-Stars last year, Walker and Middleton.

The Americans have one more exhibition game, against Canada, then will fly to China to open up their World Cup play against the Czech Republic on Sept. 1. The USA will also face Turkey (Sept. 3) and Japan (Sept. 5) in group play. While those three games in China count, none of those are elite international teams that should be a threat to the USA (like Australia, Spain, Serbia and maybe a couple of others), giving Gregg Popovich and staff more time to build roster chemistry and improve the USA’s defense, two areas that Australia exploited in their upset win.

After the first round of group play, the top two teams from each group move on to a second round of group play with four teams per group. The top two teams from those groups move on to an eight-team knockout tournament to determine the winner.

Mike Krzyzewski stops by USA Basketball practice

Getty
3 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Gregg Popovich somehow only met Mike Krzyzewski for the first time about four years ago, when the two coaching greats saw their paths finally cross when they were together at a USA Basketball event.

They’re a whole lot closer now.

USA Basketball’s coaching past was alongside its present Wednesday, when Krzyzewski – who led the national team to an 88-1 record over his 12 years at the helm – was alongside Popovich for Day 3 of the team’s training camp in advance of the FIBA World Cup. And Popovich made no effort to hide how happy he was to have his predecessor in the gym to watch practice and some scrimmages.

“We were anxious to get Coach K in town to spend a couple days,” Popovich said. “I’ve already talked to him, as you might imagine, gotten advice. But to have him here, seeing the scrimmage, now we can all go back and talk about what we think needs to happen. Having him here with that added experience is invaluable.”

Popovich wasn’t the only one in the gym feeling a boost from Krzyzewski’s presence on Wednesday. Among the others: USA Basketball forwards Mason Plumlee and Jayson Tatum, both of whom said they relished the chance to spend some extra time with their coach from Duke.

“It was great, man,” Plumlee said. “I try to see Coach once or twice a summer, so for him to come out here … he didn’t come for me, but it was great to see him.”

Tatum chatted with Krzyzewski for a few minutes after practice, and said he got some advice.

“Confidential,” Tatum said. “But it was good advice.”

Krzyzewski won five gold medals in his tenure as national team coach – including three at the Olympics and two from the world championships, now known as the World Cup – started Wednesday in a morning meeting with Popovich and other coaches. He walked into practice at UNLV alongside Popovich and was expected to take part in more meetings before departing later this week.

“He’s really the only guy that Pop can relate to in trying to bring this together so fast,” Plumlee said.

Krzyzewski, who politely declined an interview request through USA Basketball, first met Popovich around the time that the longtime San Antonio Spurs coach was accepting an invitation to replace the Duke coach at the helm of the U.S. program. They were brought together in Las Vegas by USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo during preparations for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Colangelo wanted to hire Krzyzewski’s replacement long before Rio, just to eliminate incessant speculation during the Olympic cycle about who would take over the program.

He wasn’t aware at the time that the coaches had never gotten acquainted.

“Once they got to know each other, they were like bonded immediately,” Colangelo said. “Pop was in all the meetings and the practices after they met. I wanted him to get his feet wet just to see how we had done things under Mike. And I think it was a great way to get him started. But I thought that was amazing, that they had never met each other.”

Krzyzewski and Popovich are loaded with similarities: Both went to service academies, both played for Bob Knight (Krzyzewski played for Knight at Army, and Knight was Popovich’s coach at the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials, a few years before Popovich got his first head coaching job at Division III Pomona-Pitzer). Both have five championships from their `real’ jobs – Krzyzewski at Duke, Popovich in San Antonio. They are both considered basketball royalty, the top of the top of their profession.

All that only adds to the oddity that they didn’t know each other until a few years ago.

“I’m a Division III guy at heart and that’s where I spent most of my time until I somehow woke up in San Antonio and never left,” Popovich said. “We never played Duke when I was at Pomona-Pitzer.”

NOTES: USA Basketball said Boston’s Marcus Smart is out with a left calf injury, and he will be re-evaluated when the team gets to Los Angeles for the second part of training camp next week. … In two 10-minute scrimmage periods Wednesday between the national team candidates and the select team – the younger NBA players brought into practice to compete against the varsity – there was no winner. Both periods ended in a tie, with Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton making three free throws with 0.7 seconds left in the first one to save his team. … Camp continues with Day 4 on Thursday, followed by an open scrimmage Friday night.