With more than a decade of international domination, Team USA began the FIBA World Cup as the tournament favorites. Their biggest competition looked to be Serbia and Greece, but they had no issue taking care of Greece and haven’t yet played Serbia. Despite this, Team USA lost to France in the quarterfinals by a score of 89-79 earlier this week.
For the Americans, this ends a lengthy 58-game winning streak in international events. The best player on this year’s roster, Kemba Walker, finished with just 10 points and 4 turnovers on 2-9 (22.2%) shooting. Donovan Mitchell was the best performer on the team, ending the game with 29 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals on 12-23 (52.2%) shooting. Mitchell’s production aside, Team USA shot just 17-42 (40.5%) from the field for 50 points.
The match was not about Team USA’s failures, but instead a reflection of the excellent play of France. Team France also has a few NBA players, most notably defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier. Both players were simply phenomenal against Team USA. Gobert collected 21 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks, while Fournier had 22 points and 4 assists.
When it came to crunch time, it was another Frenchman that took the reigns, and an extremely unexpected one at that. New York Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina ended the game with just 11 points and 3 assists, but he was absolutely the reason for France taking over in the fourth quarter. With France trailing Team USA by 7 points at the 8:11 mark, Ntilikina checked back into the game with just 4 points and a single assist recorded to that point.
Ntilikina immediately assisted Nando De Colo for a jumper, passed to Rudy Gobert for a layup on the next possession, then got a layup of his own a minute later. A few possessions later, Frank hit a three to tie the game at 76-76 with 4:35 remaining. He would then go on to put the game on ice by stretching the lead to 82-76 with a dagger at the 2:05 mark.
With Team USA’s loss, France moves on to the semifinals to take on Argentina. Whoever wins the next game will go on to play the winner of Spain and Australia. France is now the tournament favorite because they are likely to win both of their next games, but as Team USA demonstrated, being a favorite doesn’t guarantee a victory. Argentina is a potent team led by Luis Scola, who finished with 20 points to defeat Serbia.
Team USA will move on to the 5th-8th bracket to determine who will claim 5th place. Ironically, Team USA will get their matchup with Serbia in their next game. Before the FIBA World Cup started, Serbia was favored 2nd behind Team USA to win. Now that both teams have been eliminated in the quarterfinals, the odds on their match are a real toss up. Serbia arguably has a stronger roster, but Team USA does have some fantastic coaching.
Spain vs. Australia (9/13): Australia +3.5
Coming into the tournament, Spain was the 4th-likeliest team to win the tournament. Australia wasn’t far behind at 6th, but nobody quite expected them to make it to the semifinals. Patty Mills has been phenomenal, averaging 22.2 points through 6 games. The team has also seen excellent production from Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles, and Matthe Dellavedova. Spain has played fairly well, but Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol won’t be enough to stop the stellar play of Australia.
Argentina vs. France (9/13): France -5.5
These definitely are not the two teams expected to be in the quarterfinals, but nonetheless here they are. With France defeating Team USA, they have clearly shown that they are the best team around this year. Rudy Gobert is the best defender in the world right now and is propelling France to new heights. Add in the fact that Evan Fournier and Nando De Colo are playing out of their minds and you have an unstoppable French basketball team.
USA vs. Serbia (9/12): USA -3.5
The two tournament favorites will square off in the 5th-8th bracket. With both teams losing their last match, neither Serbia nor the USA is on the top of their game. The biggest difference here is that Serbia has lost their last two games, while the USA only lost last game. Even worse, Serbia’s best player, Nikola Jokic, has underperformed to this point, averaging just 12.7 points and 4 assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic has shouldered all the weight, but unfortunately this hasn’t translated to team success. Serbia does have the better roster, but the coaching of Team USA will result in a victory.