If shots don’t fall in Olympics, not a surprise when US does

Sports

United States’ Javale Mc Gee, left, and forward Kevin Durant (7) walk off the court after their loss to France in a men’s basketball preliminary round game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Kevin Durant had a shot. Then another about 20 seconds later.

Jrue Holiday had one. So did Zach LaVine and Bam Adebayo.

The U.S. had five attempts on the pivotal possession of its latest basketball failure and came up empty on all of them.

That not only doomed the Americans to an 83-76 loss to France on Sunday night, but showed their problems might last well beyond their Olympic opener.

Because if a team can’t shoot, it’s not going to win.

“The ball goes in or it doesn’t,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.

It sure didn’t fall much Sunday for the U.S. The Americans finished at 36% overall and were 10 for 32 (31%) from 3-point range.

Durant, who holds a host of U.S. scoring records and should break more in this tournament, was 1 for 6 on 3-pointers. Jayson Tatum was 1 for 5. Damian Lillard was 3 for 9.

These are All-NBA players, shooting from a 3-point arc that’s closer than they’re used to.

“Sometimes you make shots and sometimes you don’t,” Popovich said. “It’s not a question of what aspect of the game that you win or lose. It’s accumulation of everything that went on during the game.”

The Americans undoubtedly had a difficult preparation for these Olympics. Their exhibition schedule was reduced from five to four games after Bradley Beal was placed in health and safety protocols and ultimately couldn’t to travel to Japan. Another player had to be replaced when Kevin Love pulled out with injury.

And with Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker only joining the team Saturday after missing training camp while playing in the NBA Finals, nearly half the players missed some or all of the warmup run to the Olympics.

That means the Americans have to simplify their playbook, at least at the start. There are few sophisticated offensive sets because they simply haven’t had time to learn them.

But that shouldn’t cause shooting to suffer. And they can’t afford it to at this point, knowing they don’t have much else they can call upon after such little time together.

Booker missed a 3-pointer that could have extended a two-point lead with 2:09 remaining. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer gave France the lead before the Americans misfired on multiple chances to regain it.

Durant got good looks at the basket on both of his 3s during the five-shot possession that started with his miss with 44 seconds left. He was off on another with 25 seconds to go and Holiday missed one to end the possession.

“We gave them five chances in a row,” France center Rudy Gobert said.

Durant, with two Olympic gold medals and an MVP award from the 2010 world basketball championship, never got in a rhythm while battling foul trouble.

But he wasn’t particularly sharp during exhibition games, when the Americans were beaten by Nigeria and Argentina. Coming off such a strong finish to his NBA season, it’s an untimely slump for the U.S.

The good news for the Americans was that Holiday was better than they could have hoped after arriving late Saturday night — this after partying with the Milwaukee Bucks following their NBA championship on Tuesday.

He seems to fill a pair of needs for the Americans, providing steady point guard play while able to defend even more physically than in the NBA.

If a few more guys pick up at his level, starting in the Americans’ next game against Iran, the Americans think they can be a much different team than the one that wilted late against the French.

“We still have a chance to accomplish our goal,” Holiday said, “and being consistent is the best way to do it.”

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