For anyone that has ever listened to a Gregg Popovich interview, it was the expected answer. The coach was in an extra foul mood following USA Basketball’s 89-79 loss Wednesday to France over in China.
Popovich, who has coached the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs to five world titles, didn’t feel like fielding dumb questions. Not after Team USA was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup. Popovich was supposed to lead the team at least to the gold-medal round. When a well-known reporter asked the coach about Donovan Mitchell’s role in the fourth quarter, Popovich got testy.
The question itself was seemingly innocent. The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds was asking Popovich what happened with Mitchell. The star guard from the Utah Jazz scored a team-high 29 points, including 14 in the third quarter. Then he was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and Reynolds wanted to know if that was because Popovich stopped featuring him or due to France’s defensive adjustments.
Popovich’s answer? Stick to writing, kid. “Just write, don’t coach. Just write,” the coach said.
He had good reason to be upset. The United States had won 58 consecutive tournament games in FIBA play dating back to 2006, plus three straight Olympic gold medals. Now they can’t even win bronze. Fifth-place is their best possible finish.
“Any loss hurts,” Popovich said. “And in this situation, it hurts more. But life goes on. This is very important and we would have loved to have won but we’re all grown, we all have families and lives and life goes on.”
France’s National Roster No Laughing Matter
The Americans losing dominated the headlines more than France winning, but that’s not entirely fair. The French team boasted five players with NBA experience, including two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. This was far from the Washington Generals versus the Harlem Globetrotters. In fact, it could be argued that France had a more talented roster.
Gobert paced France with 21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. And Evan Fournier scored a team-high 22 points. France had been 0-9 all-time against Team USA in international play, including a 100-97 thriller at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics three years ago. Now they’ll move on to play Argentina in the semifinals.
What’s Next For USA Basketball?
First, they will face Serbia in the consolation round for a shot at fifth place. That’s the immediate next step. But the United States needs to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate how they put the national team together. The halcyon days of Michael Jordan and the fabled “Dream Team” are long gone.
Back then, the NBA’s superstars were lining up to represent the red, white and blue. Not anymore. The league watched as its elite players — guys like James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum — all either withdrew or declined invitations to play in China.
Team USA’s roster included: Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Joe Harris, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell, Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Myles Turner, Kemba Walker and Derrick White.