Utah Jazz: FIBA World Cup roundup – Team USA falls again, France, Australia eye Finals berth

DONGGUAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 11: Donovan Mitchell #5 of USA goes to the basket against Rudy Gobert #27 of France during FIBA World Cup 2019 quarter-final match between the United States and France at Dongguan Basketball Center on September 11, 2019 in Dongguan, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
DONGGUAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 11: Donovan Mitchell #5 of USA goes to the basket against Rudy Gobert #27 of France during FIBA World Cup 2019 quarter-final match between the United States and France at Dongguan Basketball Center on September 11, 2019 in Dongguan, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images) /

Donovan Mitchell and Team USA suffered a historically devastating consecutive loss in FIBA play. Meanwhile, Utah Jazz teammates Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles remain in play for their respective countries.

If you thought the loss that Team USA suffered to Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert and his France squad was rock bottom for the American squad, unfortunately you were wrong. One day removed from a dismal defeat to France in which Donovan Mitchell thrived but the rest of the US group failed to follow suit, the US found themselves playing in a consolation game against Serbia.

Now, remember, that at one point Serbia was considered the greatest threat out there for Team USA. Many had them pinned as the team likely to face the United States in the championship. But when Spain defeated them in the final game of group play, they arrived on the same side of the bracket as the US, meaning they would have met in the semi-finals. But after losing to Argentina, they landed in the consolation bracket to play Team USA after they fell to France.

It was an odd and unforeseen turn of events that led to the US and Serbia fighting for a chance at fifth place, rather than a chance at FIBA gold. That aspect of the matchup was unexpected. What wasn’t unexpected was the trouble that Serbia gave the United States.

And when I say trouble, it was truly ugly. Serbia came out of the gates red hot to take a 32-7 lead at the end of the first period of play. And, no, that isn’t a misprint. It was that horrific. In Team USA’s defense, they had the misfortune of playing for the second night in a row, somewhat of a rarity in FIBA play, whereas the Serbians were coming in with a day of rest in between contests.

Not only that, but let’s face it, Team USA came to win the whole thing. Whether they’d lost in group play or lost in the Finals, anything but gold would have been a failure. Having lost in the quarter-finals, the US team that arrived at the court to play Serbia was one that was dejected, discouraged and largely defeated before the opening tip even occurred.

To their credit, they didn’t roll over as they very well could have. Instead they battled back in the second to close what looked like an insurmountable deficit to just four points at the half. They pulled even closer at the end of the third as they managed to get within three points. But when all was said and done, USA’s slow start was simply far too atrocious for them to overcome. They were unable to keep their second and third-quarter success up in the fourth and ultimately fell 94-89.

In some ways, the Team USA loss comes as a massive surprise. After all, they hadn’t lost two games in a row since 2002, and their presumed 7th place finish in the FIBA World Cup (assuming they can right the ship enough mentally to topple Poland on Saturday and don’t finish even worse at 8th) will be the worst since 1992.

In other ways, though, it’s not so surprising. Several of the most talented basketball players are coming from overseas. Team USA just took on two of them back-to-back in Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic. Not only that, but this rendition of Team USA was one that was lower-tier at best, missing the United States’ most illustrious talents and expecting major production out of guys like Harrison Barnes, Joe Harris, Brook Lopez and others – all guys who are good in their own right, but not of the usual mettle that Team USA typically presents.

The American team had a horrific lack of effective big men with a center core of Myles Turner, Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee, and were low on reliable shooting. They’ve shot just 33 percent from three-point range up to this point, which is tied with Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire for 16th among all teams in the tournament. That’s simply dreadful.

The inability to buy a bucket in crucial times proved fatal against both France and Serbia, which is why the US team finds itself where it’s at now, with no better than a seventh-place finish being all they have to look forward to.

No doubt the squad is exhausted, mentally and physically, fed up by the criticism they’ve faced when quite frankly they deserve praise for at least being the ones willing to show up and give their all for their country, and ready to be back in the States preparing for what should be a thrilling 2019-20 NBA season ahead.

Unfortunately, after a brilliant performance against France, Donovan Mitchell was as much a victim of letdown as anyone as he wasn’t nearly as sharp in the loss to Serbia. He finished with just nine points while reverting back to his inefficient ways, going 4-of-12 from the floor which included shooting 1-of-4 from deep. He did have four assists, which was a great sign, but Mitchell was rendered far less effective than he had been versus his Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert and Co.

Hopefully he can finish things off strong in Saturday’s bout versus Poland, then bounce back strong, re-energized and confident for the upcoming Utah Jazz season ahead. The Salt Lake City squad will need Donovan to be mentally sound, focused and rejuvenated for a 2019-20 campaign that holds the highest expectations the Jazz have faced since the duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone suited up for the team.

He’ll need to embrace the good and lessons he’s learned from FIBA, shake off the bad and be ready to go to work in the much more important grind of the NBA.


In other Utah Jazz related FIBA news, though, the bright side of Team USA’s earlier defeat to France was that Jazz center Rudy Gobert remains in tournament play, as does sharpshooter Joe Ingles on his Australian team. Both of them will play in the semi-finals on Friday in games in which they’ll face stiff competition. However, if they prevail, they’ll find themselves advancing to Sunday’s FIBA Championship game, with a chance to bring home the gold for their country.

First, though, Ingles and Australia will take on Ricky Rubio and Spain on Friday at 2:00 AM MT (good luck getting up for that one!). Then, after that, Gobert and France will take on an experienced and grizzled Argentina team, who has been led by a resurgent former NBA-er Luis Scola who has looked excellent this summer.

Both games should be battles to the finish and both could go either way. We’re just about as likely to have a Gobert-Ingles showdown in the championship as we are to have current Jazz players’ teams eliminated from the FIBA tournament entirely.

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Either way, despite the disappointing conclusion for Team USA, who will play Poland in the seventh-place game on Saturday at 2:00 AM MT, Jazz fans are fortunate to have two players yet in the tournament whose teams are eyeing a Finals berth. And three of the top players – Mitchell, Gobert and Ingles – in FIBA play were Jazzmen, so hopefully that will be a promising and reassuring sign for the NBA season ahead.