Tokyo 2020: U.S. men's basketball team falls to France in first Olympics loss since 2004

U.S. got out to a good start in the first half, but was outscored 25-11 in a disastrous third-quarter with France taking the lead.

Action during a Tokyo 2020 fixture between the US and France.   -  REUTERS

U.S. men's basketball team suffered a shock 83-76 defeat to France on Sunday, losing at the Olympics for the first time since 2004 and for just the sixth time in the history of the tournament.

France had upset the U.S. team when it last met in the 2019 FIBA World Cup quarter-finals and it had its number again on the first day of group play at the Saitama Super Arena, powered by a game-high 28 points from Evan Fournier.

"It felt good, it felt good," Fournier told Reuters.

Moustapha Fall had high praise for his teammate. "He is the offensive leader for us, always aggressive, always trying to score," Fall said of Fournier, "We knew he was going to be our leader offensively and he assumed this role, so he is good for us."

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U.S. got out to a good start in the first half, leading 45-37 at the break on the back of its defensive energy, but was outscored 25-11 in a disastrous third-quarter with France taking the lead.

Team USA clawed back to briefly regain the lead in the fourth quarter, but the French wouldn't go away and took its first ever Olympic win versus the United States.

Star U.S. player Kevin Durant was saddled with foul trouble early and found it hard to get into a rhythm. He fouled out near the end of the game.

The United States is always the team to beat at basketball - it now has a 138-6 record and has won gold 15 times since joining the Olympic programme in 1936 - boasting more depth than any other country with its star-studded NBA line-ups.

But its recent form suggested reaching the top of the podium would not be as easy as in the past, after it dropped two straight exhibition games this month including a surprise loss to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria.

Preparations were also disrupted by the absence of players due to this year's late NBA playoffs and late replacements due to COVID-19 protocols and injury.

Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were finally able to join the team after the last game of the NBA finals on July 20. Holiday scored a team-high 18 points on Sunday despite having flown into Japan the day before.

U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said his team had to be more consistent, pointing to several leads it had let slip away.

"We gave all of those up. Because of a lack of consistent defense, too many errors on offense, possessions where we didn’t move and took ill-advised shots. So you understand it, look at it, put in the work and try to get better."

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In other Group A action on Sunday, the Czech Republic held on to beat Iran 84-78 after Iran had cut a 22-point deficit down to four points with less than a minute to go.

In Group B, Australia overcame a 22-turnover performance to top Nigeria 84-67, while Italy fought to a 92-82 win against Germany that saw Italy pull away late after tightening up its defense.

In its next games on Wednesday, the United States will take on Iran and France will meet the Czech, while Australia will face Italy and Germany will take on Nigeria

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