Team USA suffered a shocking defeat to Australia on Saturday morning, showing the gap at the FIBA World Cup will be very narrow. Everyone is preparing.
The last time the United States lost a basketball game with NBA players, it felt very much like this.
A raucous crowd turning it into a road game. A veteran point guard with a solid center running pick and rolls against a disorganized defense still learning each other. It was just a never-ending run that the U.S. could not stop.
The team that would become the Redeem Team got a lesson in international basketball that night against Greece in the semifinal of the World Championship.
It was a humbling moment for a lot of those players — including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — but an important lesson. The world was catching up and the best teams in the world could beat the U.S. if they did not bring their intensity and focus.
The run the United States went on since has been nothing short of incredible, if not expected considering the NBA’s talent level.
The U.S. had not lost a game with NBA players since that day in 2006. Until Saturday morning (on U.S. time).
Similar to that game against Greece, it was the gritty and experienced Australia team who worked together and could pick apart the U.S.’s defense.
At the end of the game, it was San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills torching the U.S., running pick and rolls with veteran big men Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut or pulling up and hitting impossible jumpers.
In front of 50,000-plus fans at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium, Australia had pulled off an incredible win ending a 76-game win streak for the U.S.
There were already plenty of worries about Team USA entering this FIBA World Cup. An extreme rush of withdrawals during camp seemed to leave the team dry of talent. And indeed, this is not the strongest group the team has ever sent over.
But this is still a capable team. They proved that in wins over Spain and Australia already in the exhibition season. This is just a team that has to come together.
In the win over Spain last week before the team went over to Australia, turnovers were the story. The U.S. looked like a team out of sync.
That was the case in the first matchup with Australia earlier this week. The U.S. had the intensity on defense and could get out in transition, but struggled in the half-court to build much consistency. Their shooting kept them afloat as they used scoring bursts to build their lead.
Predictably, Saturday’s loss to Australia saw the team struggle with all those things and lose the shooting and scoring spurt that had carried the team through so far.
Team USA shot only 44 percent and 10 for 30 from beyond the arc. For Team USA, the 3-point shooting will be vital. And it was that 3-point shot that betrayed them in the end.
The 3-pointer might be more prevalent in today’s NBA, but it is not the only thing the team should rely on. The U.S. still has to come together and find chemistry and composure.
This game will provide a good lesson for that. A reminder of just how much work it will take to win in this tournament. They have one more exhibition game to get themselves right — Monday against Khem Birch and Canada — before the games start to count.
Khem Birch All Alone
Canada was supposed to be the team ready to take the leap and challenge for a medal. The amount of talent coming into the NBA from Canada has been astounding and this feels like the golden generation for Canada.
But this is not how the team is shaking up. It feels like Australia, a disciplined and experienced group, could be a darkhorse to medal in the same way people thought Canada would.
If you thought Team USA had a lot of withdrawals, Canada would like a word.
Canada obviously will not run the offense through him. But he still should figure to play a big role. And he has put in some solid games in exhibition play so far.
Birch sat out Canada’s last game against New Zealand on August 21. Birch scored 18 points against Australia last Saturday. He is expected to play against the U.S. on Monday morning (tip-off is at 5:30 a.m.).
Fournier and Vooch prepare
Evan Fournier and France are on the ground in China to get ready for the World Cup. They recently played New Zealand earlier Saturday and dominated the overmatched squad 95-81 behind a 19-point margin in the fourth quarter.
France has shown that it has plenty of weaknesses.
They are anchored with Rudy Gobert as the defender in the paint. France has to get consistent play from their guards, including Evan Fournier. But they have some depth to get it — including former NBAers Axel Toupane, Nando de Colo and Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum and New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina.
This was the first game of a round-robin tournament for France. They will play Italy and World Cup medal favorite Serbia in the next few days.
Fournier has been up and down throughout the exhibition. He has been inconsistent with his shooting, but he has had some solid shooting games. His passing seems to have kept up from last year though.
Regardless of how he has played so far, Fournier will be vital for France to get a medal.
Finally, Al-Farouq Aminu and Nigeria are in China and defeated Poland in overtime in their first warmup game. They will play Montenegro tomorrow.