Only yesterday, we lived in a world in which Frank Ntilikina hadn’t beaten Team USA in a high-profile international tournament.
Today, that world is no more.
He and the rest of France beat Team USA this morning in Dongguan, China, 89-79, in the quarter-finals of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, ending USA’s plucky, teetering run; it was the team’s first non-exhibition loss since 2006.
And now, with the USA out of the tournament, all the American stars who didn’t want to join the team and play for Gregg Popovich because they were too afraid to stamp their names on this roster for fear of losing can secretly rejoice in their glass houses built on fear and deeply-suppressed insecurity.
In the game, France trailed by seven with as little as 7:30 left, then, shots like this from Ntilikina, a career 30.5 percent NBA 3-point shooter, started going in.
USA led after three quarters, 69-63, and Donovan Mitchell had 29 points up to then. He didn’t score again.
For France, Rudy Gobert finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, and Evan Fournier, the guy whose been scoring in the NBA for bad teams for the last half decade, had 22.
The US had won the last two World Cups, but it’s not like our guys have dominated the event; Spain won in 2006, and Yugoslavia took gold in ‘02 and ‘98.
There will be a new winner this time, and it won’t be the team we’ve been hyping….
That’s right! Argentina, led by 39-year-old Luis Scola, who washed out of the NBA in 2017, beat arguable tournament favorite Serbia in the quarterfinals, 97-87, yesterday.
Similar to USA-France, Serbia held a lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Argentines took over late to earn a spot in the World Cup semis.
This one was perhaps an even bigger upset than USA-France, though, because Serbia had a world-class player in Nikola Jokic and Argentina had a retired NBA player and, in our elitist American eyes, not much else.
But, as Zach Lowe pointed out, Scola is a final holdover from Argentina’s ‘golden generation,’ led by Manu Ginobili, that won Olympic Gold in 2002. Maybe there’s some final 2002 magic going on with this team.
What’s next for Team USA?
We’ll finally get the fabled USA-Serbia matchup we hoped for going into this thing, only it’ll be for fifth place, not a spot in the finals.
Those two will play Thursday at 7 a.m. EST.
“May God help” Popovich, like the Serbian coach said, in this vaunted fifth-place matchup.
So, who else is left?
Argentina and France will play in the semi-finals on Friday at 8 a.m. EST. Spain, which beat Poland in the quarters, will play Australia, which beat Czech Republic in the quarters, on Friday at … wait for it … 4 a.m. EST.
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