We all knew it could happen, but then it actually did. Team USA got beat in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and at the worst time to get beat, the quarterfinals. France, led by Rudy Gobert, Nando de Colo, and Frank Ntilikina, beat the Americans by 10 on Wednesday morning to advance to the semifinals, where they will meet Argentina on Friday. Team USA is out of medal contention, and will play Serbia in the consolation bracket on Thursday.
Team USA was capable of losing this tournament because so many stars stayed home and, at this stage, a few international teams are good enough to beat a Team USA that isn’t loaded to the gills with star NBA players. France is one of those teams — they came into the tournament one of the teams capable, and have actually played even better than projected. Ntilikina as a confident, defense-first point guard is a revelation. Gobert has been as dominant as we’ve ever seen him. It remains a surprise de Colo never came back to the NBA. This is a good, good team. All four teams in the semifinals — France, Spain, Argentina, and Australia — are really solid.
Donovan Mitchell scored 29 with better than 50 percent shooting and zero turnovers. Donovan Mitchell was not the problem, and those getting jokes off about Mitchell falling short in elimination games are just getting jokes off, not being serious. (Jokes are good. Just saying: Donovan Mitchell came to play.) Kemba Walker, the other go-to guard on Team USA, had an exceedingly tough game, going 2-for-9 with four turnovers in 25 minutes. The team’s three centers played a combined 16 minutes of ineffective basketball; smallball worked most of the tournament, but it’s not working against Gobert.
Lots of lessons learned here. No reason to freak out, though. It’s alright that Team USA isn’t invincible.
The Chicago Sky shredded the Phoenix Mercury in their playoff game Wednesday night, capitalizing on injuries to Diana Taurasi (out after missing most of the season and not being herself when she played) and Britney Griner (who played just 14 minutes due to a knee injury). Diamond DeShields led the way; all hail Diamond DeShields.
In the other Round 1 knockout game, the defending champ Seattle Storm handled the Minnesota Lynx to end a very odd season for the Lynx in a pretty odd way. Come back, Maya Moore. (If you want. What you’re doing right now is extremely important.)
The next round of knockouts comes on Sunday. The Storm will face the L.A. Sparks (3 p.m. ET) and the Sky will face the Las Vegas Aces (5 p.m. ET). Both games will be on ESPN2. GET YOUR POPCORN.
Dan Devine on Team USA’s nightmare scenario and what’s next for the program.
Michael Pina with a fantastic take: Stephen Curry is totally going to win the MVP this season.
Matt Ellentuck’s WNBA awards ballot reflects that this was truly the year of the Mystics.
And finally: Kobe Bryant shamed a 12-year-old on his youth basketball team on Instagram for missing a game for a dance recital, got tremendous blowback on the internet, and edited the IG caption to reflect that he’s actually fine with the girl missing basketball for dance, and besides, she’s obsessed with basketball now. Two quick thoughts here. The first is that, yes, Kobe seems like a lunatic of a youth coach. Is anyone really surprised after the way he acted in the NBA for decades? Of course not. The second is that Kobe’s thought process is way more pervasive than you think among parents, youth coaches, and especially youth coaches who are also team parents! Competitive youth sports is riddled with “I guess you have different priorities than these other players who are giving their blood, sweat, and tears 24/7 for the, uh, under-12 regional championship.” And it’s not just basketball: soccer, softball, volleyball, cheer, football, baseball, gymnastics, hockey. It’s truly unreal how much of the modern youth sports industry is built around guilting kids into singular focus on a single sport and around guilting parents into paying (in time, money, and stress) for the experience. Other parents do most of the guilting! It’s worse that Kobe is involved, because he comes from a place of authority as a basketball legend. Anyways, let kids be kids and stop taking advice on mental acuity from Kobe freaking Bryant.
Be excellent to each other.