Jul 26, 2021 • 1HR 0M

BRING IT IN: TEAM USA falls to France

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Henry Abbott
Award-winning hard truths about the NBA since 2005.
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The U.S. men’s team opened the playoffs with a dispiriting loss to France. The French team is good. And big—a particular weakness of the American roster. But … isn’t an American team with multiple incredible defenders, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, and Jrue Holiday supposed to beat France?

David watched every second and has all kinds of thoughts:

  • Starting two non-shooting bigs together made like easy for Rudy Gobert, who wanted to camp out in the paint. So long as that was the case, the U.S. offense would depend on hitting long jumpers, which often—but not always—works.

  • Popovich stubbornly kept up a switching defense, which gave France an identity to pick their preferred matchup and pound the paint—at times with three bigs.

  • With Bradley Beal on the roster things would have been different.

Also, before you lecture Team USA about Hero Ball, understand that Popovich’s personal basketball journey, well before the NBA, begins with life as an intense and gritty defender and role player who was one of the last players cut from Team USA when politics led the team to pick more famous and high-scoring players instead. “He’s never forgotten it,” his close friend R.C. Buford told Jackie MacMullan a few years ago.

That said, there’s all kinds of reasons for hope.

  • Kevin Durant at center might be incredible for this tournament.

  • Damian Lillard looked nervous, and passed in moments he would normally shoot. That won’t last.

  • With a bit of rest, Khris Middleton could become an incredibly important player.

  • Few if any rosters can frustrate Team USA in this exact way.