Stripped of all the history and the noise, a very good basketball team led by a lethal scorer beat a very good basketball team with shaky defense.
That’s what happened in the Olympic opener between France and the USA. But since this is Olympics basketball, any mention of a Team USA loss shakes the ground.
The last time a USA basketball team lost in the Olympics, these things were happening:
LeBron James, literally a kid from Akron, played in his first pro year. Kevin Garnett was the MVP. The Detroit Pistons were NBA champions. Pau Gasol played in his first Olympics. Olympian Manu Ginobili was awesome.
This was 2004, when Team USA relied on Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson for points while LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade sat on the bench.
The sentiment then: the world has caught up.
Seventeen years later, with the USA losing to France in the opener, the same line is still being used. Olympic basketball is now a level playing field, without a clear, dominant, runaway gold medal winner.
But we already knew that in 2004, when the USA took home a bronze medal. It rang true even on the Redeem Team’s glorious run in 2008. In the gold medal match, Spain hung dangerously close in the final minutes.
Kobe Bryant and the rest had to turn it up and activate NBA Finals, Game 7-level basketball to close out the game. It wasn’t easy at all.
It’s no different from today.
Team USA held a fragile seven-point lead in the last three minutes of the game, but a couple of bad defensive sequences and several missed 3s allowed France to take over.
It was a game that could’ve gone either way, just like the gold medal game versus Spain in ‘08. It was all about finishing strong, which Team USA didn’t do.
The loss wasn’t shocking nor groundbreaking, but more of a reminder about the state of basketball in the international level. Team USA hasn’t lost a single game since that meltdown against Argentina in ‘04, but not all of their wins since then were blowouts.
Some were decided in the closing seconds after a hard fight. And that’s all they have to do in the next games against Iran and Czech Republic: fight hard and close it out.
There’s no question about talent, which is abundant in Team USA and elsewhere. It’s about making the correct plays down the stretch.
France did exactly that and came out with the win. Nothing more, nothing less.