Here's why USA loss against France wasn't a surprise

2021-07-26 20:06
Augustas Šuliauskas
Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Team USA lost to France 76-83, and the basketball world was shocked. Not sure why. The game itself told a different story. Even though Americans haven't lost an Olympic game in 17 years, their struggles in international basketball have been going on for a couple of years now. And this match was another example. Let's see how France were able to capitalize on the USA's biggest weaknesses. 

Player of the Game
Rudy  Gobert
Rudy Gobert
Points 14
Accuracy 5-6
Rebounds 9
Assists 1

Different game

The game played outside of the NBA is different. If a slight court size difference doesn't have a huge impact, a shorter 3-point line does. It takes away penetration space, which is important to these lightning-quick guards like Damian Lillard or Devin Booker. 

When on defense, FIBA rules allow you to camp in the paint. When these players beat their opponent in the NBA game, it usually means an open layup or an easy kick-out pass. Meanwhile, it's harder to get to the rim in the Olympics, and if you get there, there's no guarantee you will score easily. 

Now let's add France's perfect defensive game plan into the picture. When USA players had the ball in their hands on the perimeter, Vincent Collet instructed his players to stunt (jump hard versus the ball) from a player standing one pass away. This closed any remaining gaps to drive the ball. 

As a result, Damian Lillard shot just once from 2-point range in 27 minutes. All of this despite the fact that France switched most of the ball screens, which left him against Rudy Gobert and other French big men on the perimeter. 

It became a big problem in the 3rd quarter, in which Americans scored only 11 points. French baskets on the other side meant no fast-break opportunities for Team USA, which were their primary source of points during the first half (15 total). Dame looked passive after the switches, instead taking long shots and missing. 

Stunts from one pass away and hard help on drives are risky. It sometimes allowed the USA to move the ball quickly and find open shots. However, they were not able to punish their opponents for that efficiently. I counted at least 13 open shots that the Team USA missed, while France didn't convert only on 6 of such occasions. 

Switch-all and shrink-the-court system was not a random success for France, even if the USA missed more open shots than usual. France have the best length and quickness combo for stopping Americans in Tokyo. And a different set of rules help them.  

Defensive ups and downs

Let's head to the other side of the court. Team USA defense left an ambiguous feeling. 

On the one hand, the on-ball defense left an amazing impression once again. With his quickness and strength, Jrue Holiday led the way with impressive sequences against Evan Fournier or Nando De Colo and reminded us why he is often called the NBA's best perimeter defender. During a couple of possessions, the Frenchmen were left with no other choice but to pass out the ball when playing against him. 

Active hands in 1 on 1 defense played a big part in the game as well. USA had at least 14 deflections which led to 8 steals and some highlight dunks from Zach LaVine and Jayson Tatum. 

However, the off-ball defense is definitely a point to emphasize for Gregg Popovich during the next team meeting. Americans allowed way too many backdoor cuts, as LaVine was caught sleeping by De Colo and Booker by Vincent Poirier. When the USA tried something similar - a baseline cut - De Colo was ready, coming up with a steal. 

It was an even bigger problem when Americans were switching all ball screens. Guards had to front Rudy Gobert and prevent him from catching the ball easily inside. The weak side low man had to help in case of a lob pass. 

But here, France did an intelligent thing and tested the USA's concentration. They sent their cornerman flashing middle to execute the high-low pass inside. USA's low men were caught watching the ball 4-5 times and were late to their man. This was the worst-case scenario. They were not able to deny the pass to the flashing cornerman, and then there was no help on the lob pass to the big man. 

In total, the USA lost around 16 to 18 points just on the off-ball defensive errors. Way too many for any team wanting to win the Olympic gold. It was not the first time we saw Americans commit these mistakes as the bad habits of the NBA regular season tend to get out from time to time. 

France coming out on top wasn't a shocker as they played a great game and managed to get the best out of Team USA's weaknesses. Of course, it was just the first game, and we all know the difficulties Gregg Popovich and his staff had during the training camp. I expect Americans to get much better as the tournament goes on, but winning the gold is not a given anymore as it once was. 

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Prancūzijos rinktinė
JAV rinktinė
Field goals
Free throws

Best players

Evan  Fournier
28 PTS
11/22 FG
2/3 FT
Jrue  Holiday
18 PTS
5/13 FG
5/6 FT
Rudy  Gobert
Bam  Adebayo
10 REB
Few players
5 As
Few players
4 As
Rudy  Gobert
17 EFF
83% 2P%
- 3P%
Jrue  Holiday
18 EFF
29% 2P%
50% 3P%