Team USA was knocked out of the 2019 FIBA World Cup by France on Wednesday in a stunning, 89-79 loss.
The loss ends a 58-game international winning streak with NBA players by the U.S.
The short-handed U.S. roster went down by as much as 10 vs. France in the third quarter before rallying behind the play of Donovan Mitchell, who scored 14 of his 29 points in the period.
After taking a five-point lead in the fourth quarter, however, France than rallied, going on an 18-5 run, spearheaded by the play of three NBA countrymen, Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, and Frank Ntilikina.
The 2019 roster was the weakest in recent memory for U.S. Basketball, with notable withdrawals including James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Bradley Beal, and more.
An already-thin roster relying on veterans and young players was stretched further with injuries to Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma, two of the more promising young players on the team.
To counter France's size, first-time USA head coach Gregg Popovich went small. He used reigning Defensive Player of the Year Gobert in the middle and played lineups featuring players like the 6-foot-7 Jaylen Brown and 6-foot-8 Harrison Barnes at center to spread the floor. The U.S. often struggled on the boards and had no rim protection as a result. When they were beaten on the perimeter — which didn't often happen, thanks to quick, lengthy lineups — the U.S. was often toast.
On the other end, France's perimeter players and Gobert stifled the U.S. offense down the stretch. Mitchell, strangely, was less involved in the final quarter, while Kemba Walker, perhaps the face of the team, struggled with an off-shooting night. Walker had a chance to cut France's lead to three with 42 seconds remaining, but missed two of three free throws, essentially ending the U.S. bid.
Now, however, Team USA doesn't simply get to go home. They are now entered into the third-place bracket, set to face Serbia, a team who many thought could beat the U.S. before they lost a stunning upset to Argentina. The U.S. not only gets a tough Serbia team, with no chance at winning gold, but they must also compete in the "losers'" bracket. If they fall to Serbia, they'll play for 7th place.
Perhaps one silver lining of the loss is it could rejuvenate top stars to take place in international competition, particularly in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.