There is no doubt that USA Basketball are amongst the favourites in any competition they enter, and the Tokyo Olympic Games are no different, but they will have an added incentive when they take on France in their opening match of the tournament on Sunday (14:00 CEST).
Just two years ago, France knocked out the USA at the quarter-final stage of the FIBA World Cup. Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nando de Colo scored a combined 61 points in Les Bleus’ 89-79 victory, with only Donovan Mitchell impressing for Team USA that day, as he scored 29 points. The next best was Marcus Smart with 11.
Questions were immediately asked about why some of the USA’s supposed best talent was not on show back in 2019, yet head coach Gregg Popovich was keen to stress that France deserved credit for beating the tournament favourites.
“That ‘well, hey, you guys didn’t have this guy or that guy!’ [argument]… That’s disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us,” Popovich said after the USA’s quarter-final defeat.
“It doesn’t matter who was on the team. I couldn’t be more proud of these 12 guys who sacrificed their summer to come here having never played together before, and they put themselves in the arena and competed and they deserve credit for that. Just like France deserves credit for winning.
“It’s not about ‘well, the United States didn’t have their other guys.’ There’s no such thing as other guys. These are the guys that were here, and they did a great job, and I’m very proud of them.”
USA Basketball have a more impressive squad this time around, led by the likes of Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, while there are three players from the NBA Finals that have just flown over to Tokyo in Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton.
It was expected that, given the vast array of talent at Popovich’s disposal, the USA would waltz their way to a series of victories in the lead-up to the Olympics. However, that wasn’t the case.
Back-to-back defeats against Nigeria and Australia in their first two exhibition games led to plenty of questions in the States about whether this team will be able to translate from the NBA brand of basketball to the FIBA style, but wins against Argentina and Spain – the two finalists at the FIBA World Cup in 2019 – silenced some of the doubters.
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