SAITAMA, Japan — The final buzzer sounded and France barely celebrated. To them, beating the United States again wasn’t really a surprise. And that might be the biggest indicator yet that the Americans — even after three consecutive Olympic gold medals — are no longer feared by other top international teams.
A 25-game Olympic winning streak for the United States is over, ending Sunday when France closed the game on a 16-2 run to beat the Americans, 83-76, in the Tokyo Games.
Evan Fournier’s three off a broken play with under a minute left put France ahead for good, as the Americans simply fell apart in the final minutes. "They are better individually," Fournier said of the Americans, "but they can be beaten as a team."
That’s been proved with alarming regularity in the last two years. Starting with France’s win over the United States in the Basketball World Cup quarterfinals two years ago, the Americans are 3-5 in their last eight games with NBA players in the lineup.
The United States missed its final nine shots, five of them coming in a 21-second span in the final minute shortly after Fournier — who led all scorers with 28 points — made the go-ahead three-pointer.
Rudy Gobert wildly missed a layup on that play, but Guerschon Yabusele chased down the bouncing rebound and just before he dove into the U.S. bench he made a desperation swipe at the ball in an effort to knock it into Fournier’s direction. Fournier turned Yabusele’s dive into a dagger, and just like that the Americans are in Olympic trouble.
"I think that’s a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the balls and win," U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. "We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did."
The Americans lost for only the sixth time in 144 games at the Olympics all-time, and fell to 53-4 in the Olympics with NBA players on the roster. The 2004 team at the Athens Games lost the other three, and won bronze. Every other U.S. team in the era that started with the "Dream Team" in 1992 won the gold and this one still can — but it’s far from a certainty.
"When you lose a game, you’re not surprised," Popovich said. "You’re disappointed."
Fournier had 28 points for France while Rudy Gobert scored 14 and Nando de Colo had 13. Jrue Holiday had 18 points for the United States, Bam Adebayo had 12, Damian Lillard 11 and Kevin Durant had 10 for the Americans — who are just 2-3 in their games this summer, the first four of them exhibitions in Las Vegas that weren’t supposed to mean much.
The Olympics, they were supposed to be different. They weren’t. They lost, again. "I mean, it’s great," Gobert said. "But until we have what we want to have around our neck it doesn’t really matter."
The idea of anyone else leaving an Olympics with gold hasn’t been all that realistic in recent years. Now, it’s very real. A 10-point U.S. lead in the third quarter was wasted, and so was a 12-point barrage from Holiday in the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter as the Americans went from six points down to start the period to six points up with 5:23 remaining. The United States’ lead was seven with 3:30 left.
France outscored the United States 16-2 from there, and the Americans missed all nine of their shots — five of them in a 21-second span on the same trip down the floor in the final minute, three of those from three-point range.
"Evan was amazing," France coach Vincent Collet said. "I don’t want to use big, big, big words, but he made some very big shots."
The loss doesn’t knock the United States out of medal contention, but it essentially eliminates the margin for error. The Americans play Iran on Wednesday and then the Czech Republic on Saturday in its final two Group A games; win both of those, and they will be in the quarterfinals. Lose another one, and the Americans might not even finish in the top eight of this 12-team tournament.