By TIM REYNOLDS
The Associated Press
SAITAMA, Japan — The final buzzer sounded and France barely celebrated.
To them, beating the United States again wasn’t really a surprise. And that might be the biggest indicator yet that the Americans — even after three consecutive Olympic gold medals — are no longer feared by other top international teams.
A 25-game Olympic winning streak for the U.S. is over, ending Sunday when France closed the game on a 16-2 run to beat the Americans 83-76 in the Tokyo Games. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer off a broken play with just under a minute left put France ahead for good, as the Americans simply fell apart in the final minutes.
“They are better individually,” Fournier said of the Americans, “but they can be beaten as a team.”
That’s been proven with alarming regularity in the last two years. Starting with France’s win over the U.S. in the Basketball World Cup quarterfinals at China two years ago, the Americans are merely 3-5 in their last eight games with NBA players in the lineup.
The U.S. missed its final nine shots, five of them coming in a 21-second span in the final minute shortly after Fournier — who led all scorers with 28 points — made the go-ahead 3-pointer. Rudy Gobert wildly missed a layup on that play, but Guerschon Yabusele chased down the bouncing rebound and just before he dove into the U.S. bench he made a desperation swipe at the ball in an effort to knock it into Fournier’s direction.
Fournier turned Yabusele’s dive into a dagger, and just like that the Americans are in Olympic trouble.
“I think that’s a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the balls and win,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. And for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did.”
The Americans lost for only the sixth time in 144 games at the Olympics all-time, and fell to 53-4 in the Olympics with NBA players on the roster. The 2004 team at the Athens Games lost the other three, and won bronze. Every other U.S. team in the era that started with the “Dream Team” in 1992 won the gold and this one still can — but it’s far from a certainty.
“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised,” Popovich said. “You’re disappointed.”
Fournier had 28 points for France, while Rudy Gobert scored 14 and Nando de Colo had 13. Jrue Holiday had 18 points for the U.S., Bam Adebayo had 12, Damian Lillard 11 and Kevin Durant had 10 for the Americans — who are just 2-3 in their games this summer, the first four of them exhibitions in Las Vegas that weren’t supposed to mean much.
The Olympics, they were supposed to be different.
They weren’t. They lost, again.
“I mean, it’s great,” Gobert said. “But until we have what we want to have around our neck it doesn’t really matter.”
The idea of anyone else leaving an Olympics with gold hasn’t been all that realistic in recent years. Now, it’s very real.
A 10-point U.S. lead in the third quarter was wasted, and so was a 12-point barrage from Holiday in the opening 4 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter as the Americans went from six points down to start the period to six points up with 5:23 remaining.
The U.S. lead was seven with 3:30 left. France outscored the U.S. 16-2 from there, and the Americans missed all nine of their shots — five of them in a 21-second span on the same trip down the floor in the final minute, three of those from 3-point range.
“Evan was amazing,” France coach Vincent Collet said. “I don’t want to use big, big, big words, but he made some very big shots.”
The loss doesn’t knock the U.S. out of medal contention, but it essentially eliminates the margin for error. The Americans play Iran on Wednesday and then the Czech Republic on Saturday in its final two Group A games; win both of those, and the U.S. will be in the quarterfinals. Lose another one, and the Americans might not even finish in the top eight of this 12-team tournament.
The Americans scored three points in a seven-minute span of the third, Durant picked up his fourth foul — the FIBA limit is five with 16:45 left in the game, and that once-comfortable lead was soon gone. De Colo’s 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining in the third put France up 55-54, its first lead since the game’s first four minutes.
France led 62-56 going to the final quarter. Holiday — who arrived in Tokyo on Saturday, less than a week removed from helping Milwaukee win the NBA title — did all he could to will the U.S. to a win in the fourth, but simply didn’t get enough help.
“He was outstanding,” Popovich said.
It was the first time the U.S. and France played since the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup two years ago, a game that the Americans lost on the way to a seventh-place finish — the worst ever by a USA Basketball team with NBA players.
The U.S. got outscored 22-5 in the final 7 ½ minutes of that game, losing 89-79. This time, the final run was 16-2 in the final 3:17 to lose by seven.
That loss in China ended World Cup medal hopes. This one doesn’t end the Americans’ Olympic chances — but another loss almost certainly will.
“We have to defend better down the stretch,” U.S. forward Draymond Green said. “And close the games out.”
TIP-INS: France: Frank Ntilikina missed the game, with the French federation saying he continues to deal with “slight muscle discomfort.” … France took the game’s first nine free throws. The U.S. didn’t shoot one until JaVale McGee went to the line with 8:27 left in the second quarter. … Yabusele left the game briefly with 1:30 left in the half after going knee-to-knee with Holiday.
USA: Durant had three fouls in the first half, something that’s happened only 10 times in his last 544 NBA appearances. … The U.S. used 11 of its players in the first half, with Jerami Grant the only one who didn’t get into the game.
MOVING UP: Durant moved into outright possession of the No. 4 spot on the U.S. men’s all-time Olympic appearances list. He’s now played in 17 games, behind only Carmelo Anthony (31), LeBron James (24) and David Robinson (24). There are 15 players with 16 Olympic appearances.
UP NEXT: France: Face the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
USA: Face Iran on Wednesday.