Team USA got off to a rough start in the Tokyo Olympics with an 83-76 loss to France. This is the United States men's team's first loss in Olympic competition since 2004 when it lost to Argentina.
The U.S. blew a seven-point lead in the final 3:40. There were flashes of the team looking confident, and the Americans finished the game with 23 assists on 25 field goals. Team USA got a jolt from NBA champ Jrue Holiday, who put up 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. But the Americans went cold down the stretch, allowing France to steal the game.
Several factors played a role in Team USA's loss. Here are the five biggest reasons Team USA finds itself 0-1 in these Olympics.
1. No Bigs = a Big Problem
Going into the Olympics, one of the concerns for Team USA was its lack of size. That was tested against France, who started Rudy Gobert and Guerschon Yabusele. The Americans' main defense was to switch everything, which meant a guard would have to switch onto Gobert quite regularly.
Gobert was able to go to work on the smalls after setting a ball screen. He would roll down the lane and post up in a deep, favorable position. He finished the game with 14 points and nine rebounds and got to the line eight times.
Team USA staying in this switching scheme opened up several high-low opportunities. After switching onto the big, Team USA guards would front the post, but the counter was an easy fix for France: a French player would flash from the weak side to the high post and throw a pass over the top of the fronting defender, leading to a dunk or more free throws.
France continued to play big and even bigger when it paired former Celtic Vincent Poirier with Gobert in the second half. Poirier, a 7-footer, often found guys like Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker and Keldon Johnson on him.
Size will be a recurring problem for the United States, made worse if it continues to switch every screen action on and off the ball.
2. France Prevented Easy Buckets
A big part of Team USA's game is going to be running in transition. No team in the Olympics can match its athleticism and speed, so getting out on the break and pushing the tempo is critical. The Americans did a great job in the first half, with nine fast-break possessions for 14 points. Zach LaVine got a dunk after a Draymond Green strip and touchdown pass. Jayson Tatum got a layup off a push after getting the rebound. France was unable to keep up with the United States' running game. So it adjusted at halftime.
The big adjustment France made was sending only one player to the offensive glass, with everyone else getting back defensively. That led to just five second-half fast-break opportunities, with one of them coming once the game was decided. There were fewer chances to get a breakaway dunk or early-offense layup because the defense was pretty set.
Getting easy buckets is paramount to the Americans' campaign. They are small but fast. If they are not getting out in transition, they'll end up in a more half-court game, which tends to favor teams with more size.
3. Half-Court Offense Struggles
What made the transition game so important was Team USA's half-court offense was largely unproductive. Some of it was just missing shots, some of it was France's defense, and some of it was being too unselfish.
Former video coordinator Steve Jones Jr. pointed it out in the clip below. In a normal NBA game, once Bam Adebayo kicks it out to the corner off the short roll to Jrue Holiday, that is a shot. Instead Holiday passes it up to Zach LaVine, who also passes up an open look. Those are shots they would take in a normal NBA game. Team USA got exactly what any NBA team would be looking for offensively but instead was caught overpassing.
The half-court struggle showed in particular in the final four minutes. LaVine hit a three with 4:20 left to go to put the Americans up five, and that was their last made field goal of the game. They went 0-of-9 and had two turnovers while France went on a 16-4 run. Team USA's points per possession in the half court was 0.776. It's going to be tough to win with that type of production in the half court.
4. Kevin Durant's Foul Trouble
It was a tough night for Kevin Durant, scoring 10 points but going 4-of-12 from the field and 1-of-6 from three. He played only 21 minutes because he was in foul trouble. He picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and then his third halfway through the second. Durant picked up his fourth early in the third after switching onto Gobert and battling for post-up position. That might not be called in the NBA, but the FIBA game is officiated differently.
With just five fouls warranting a player fouling out (instead of the NBA's rule of six), Gregg Popovich had to be selective from then on in deploying the USA's best offensive threat. The foul trouble kept Durant from finding his rhythm and really getting in the flow of the game.
Though he likely won't be in foul trouble every game, Durant will need to be more careful in how he defends throughout the tournament, especially when he picks up two quick fouls.
5. Evan Fournier, Take a Bow
Evan Fournier completely went off against Team USA. He dropped 28 points on 11-of-22 shooting. It was not particularly bad defense against him—he just caught fire. Everyone got a chance on him. He turned the corner on the guards when he was played straight up. He attacked the bigs, especially Green off the dribble, when they switched onto him.
In the fourth quarter, Fournier knocked down two big shots, one off a baseline out-of-bounds play for two in the corner. Then he hit a huge three off a great hustle play from Yabusele to put France up three for good. The U.S. had no answers for him when France went on its 14-0 run to take the lead.
It is always easier to prevent a fire than putting one out. Even though the defense was not bad, Team USA should have worked harder to deny him catches and push up into him. The Americans had some success when they were able to do that, but once he caught the ball it was going up.
This was a very disappointing loss for Team USA. The Americans were not able to execute down the stretch, get in transition or stay out of foul trouble, and they struggled to contain Fournier and stayed in a switching scheme too long. Most of these are correctable mistakes, but there is a limited amount of time left to correct them.
The U.S. should bounce back against Iran but will need some help from the Czech Republic to have a chance to win the group. The Americans will need the Czech Republic to beat France and then of course they have to beat the Czech Republic. But the top two teams from each group qualify for the knockout stage, so Team USA would almost certainly advance by winning its last two group-stage games.
Advanced stats via Synergy Sports unless otherwise noted.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.