Rudy Gobert

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Myles Turner defends Team USA’s effort: ‘We layed it all out on the line each and every game’

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USA Basketball is about to have its worst finish ever in a major international tournament, either 7th or 8th in this World Cup after consecutive losses to France and Serbia.

There are reasons for the disappointing result, but all starts and ends with who did and did not show up. The guys who did show up are taking some heat for the USA’s poor result, but on Thursday center Myles Turner — who has been the team’s best center but was overwhelmed by Rudy Gobert against France — stuck up for the guys who showed up.

That last bit is the key — these guys showed up and tried their best. Give them some credit. They didn’t put club/personal concerns ahead of country. They sacrificed a chunk of their off-season to represent their nation when others wouldn’t, and that deserves some respect.

Also, Turner is right — don’t question the effort these guys put in. The USA players didn’t mail it in, they didn’t coast. The simple fact of modern international basketball is that the gap between the USA and the rest of the world is not that large anymore, and if we don’t send our best — if top players back out because this is just the World Cup, or because of timing — we will see more results like this. There is little margin for error for the USA anymore.

This version of Team USA could not afford Kemba Walker to have an off shooting game, or for Khris Middleton to blend into the background, or for the players to get away from tempo and ball movement far too often. But they showed up and they tried, and that should give them an advantage when it comes to making the 2020 Tokyo Olympic squad.

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

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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

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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.

FIBA admits officials’ error in end of Lithuania/France game that eliminated Lithuania

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Let’s set the stage: There were 30.8 seconds left in a tight game between Lithuania and France, with the French leading 76-75 but Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas at the free throw line, ready to take the second of his shots and possibly tie the game.

Valanciunas’ shot hit the rim and bounced around, and in FIBA once the ball hits the rim there is no more goaltending, so France’s Rudy Gobert goes up and swats the ball off the rim — but in doing so Gobert hits the rim. Pretty clearly. Under international rules, once Gobert touched the rim the shot should have counted, the game should have been tied. However, the FIBA officials missed it, no call was made, and France went on to win 78-75.

The loss meant Lithuania was out of the quarterfinals, they have been eliminated (although they have a game left) and France advances to the knockout stage.

FIBA came out the next morning and China and admitted the officials’ blew it and said those referees have been suspended.

Would Lithuania have won the game if the referees got the call right? We’ll never know. France’s Nando De Colo hit a midranger on the other end after this to give France the 78-75 lead, that play would have been different with defenses set. Also, Lithuania would not have had to go for three on the final shot. The ending would have been different, whoever won.

Fans get frustrated with NBA officials, and they certainly do not get everything right, but if you think they’re bad watch FIBA hoops for a while. You’ll come away with a new appreciation. The NBA has the best guys (and a better review system) for what is a very difficult job.

2019 FIBA World Cup will have international star power

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The reigning NBA MVP is headed to the basketball World Cup. So are three other members of this past season’s All-NBA squad, and so is the starting center from the team that won the NBA championship a couple months ago.

Most of those guys won’t be playing for the United States.

The majority of America’s best players are sitting out the World Cup, while many of the best international players are not. NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece, fellow All-NBA players Nikola Jokic of Serbia and Rudy Gobert of France, and Marc Gasol of Spain – a significant part of Toronto’s run to the NBA title – are among the headliners who won’t be in U.S. colors when the tournament starts Saturday in China.

“We’re going to China with the goal of a medal,” Jokic said.

The Denver star isn’t just looking for any medal. He’s seeking gold.

And the Serbians would seem to have as good a chance as anyone in a tournament that suddenly looks wide open.

France and Australia – which is coming off a 98-94 victory over the United States on Saturday that ended the Americans’ 78-game winning streak in international play – are expected to have five NBA players on their rosters for the World Cup, and Serbia is likely to bring four. In all, more than 60 players with NBA experience are likely to participate in the tournament and only 12 of them are playing for the U.S.

“A lot of teams can be in the medal spots and it’s going to be intense, very hard for every team to be in those spots,” said France’s Nicolas Batum – the only player from the last World Cup All-Tournament team in 2014 who is expected to compete in this year’s event. “But every team, including ours, is going to fight for it, to play at its best level to try to come back home with a medal.”

The only U.S. World Cup player who was an All-NBA pick this past season is Kemba Walker, then of the Charlotte Hornets and now of the Boston Celtics. Look at the NBA stats from last season for World Cup-bound players and the leading scorer, the top three in assists per game and the top seven rebounders all are on international rosters.

The world is getting better.

That means the U.S. is no lock in this tournament.

“There are a lot of contenders out there,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.

The Americans are the only team with a roster composed entirely of NBA players, but that isn’t stopping some from scoffing at the notion that the U.S. is vulnerable heading into this tournament because its World Cup roster doesn’t have anything close to a Dream Team-esque level of star-studded names.

Spain coach Sergio Scariolo bluntly dismisses that notion.

Scariolo, a Toronto assistant coach when he’s not leading Spain, is quick to point out that a glance at the NBA salaries of the U.S. players dwarfs the combined salaries of every other World Cup roster. When the Americans played Spain in an exhibition earlier this month, the U.S. sent out a starting five that will make roughly $105 million this season.

So yes, in terms of earning power, no other team in the world comes close to the roster that the Americans are bringing to China this week.

But as evidenced by how Australia battled the U.S. twice in a pair of exhibitions in Melbourne, and beat the Americans there on Saturday, at least some of the world’s best teams aren’t exactly fearful of the two-time defending World Cup champions.

“Let’s let them play their basketball and we will play ours,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic now-famously said earlier this month. “And if we meet, may God help them.”

Clearly, the tournament means quite a bit to Serbia. It means plenty to other nations as well.

Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee star who won NBA MVP this past season, even said earlier this month that he would give back the award if it could be exchanged for a World Cup gold medal for Greece.

“I believe him,” U.S. center and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks teammate Brook Lopez said. “That’s how much he wants this.”