Milwaukee Bucks: USA loses to France, World Cup dreams over for Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez

DONGGUAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 11: (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
DONGGUAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 11: (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images) /

The latest upset at the 2019 FIBA World Cup saw France eliminate the USA, and end the Milwaukee Bucks’ medal hopes at the tournament.

It has long been clear that Team USA, depleted by their usual standards, would have a much tougher time securing a medal at this year’s 2019 FIBA World Cup.

On Wednesday, that task proved to be too tall for Gregg Popovich’s team, though, as they were eliminated by France in the quarter final stage, losing 89-79 in Dongguan, China.

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An outstanding France team was always going to be a tough out at this stage of the tournament, yet this outcome remained just the latest in a string of upsets that have graced the World Cup over the past 10 days or so.

Notable among that group was Serbia’s loss to Argentina on Tuesday, particularly as much of the conversation around this tournament had been focused on the potential of a heavyweight matchup between Serbia and the USA at the business end of that tournament.

Funnily enough, that game will transpire after all, but to the surprise of most it will now be taking place in the classification bracket where results will have a bearing on which teams secure automatic qualification for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

That classification setting will make for very unfamiliar territory for the Americans, yet they’ll live to rue their missed opportunities in France that led them to that fate.

The first quarter played out with nothing between the two teams, before the remaining three quarters devolved into a series of runs that Team USA ultimately landed on the wrong side of.

A six-point France lead at half time offered the Americans their first real challenge, but it was one they passed with flying colors as a strong third quarter and beginning of the fourth regained the lead for the roster packed with NBA talent.

The problem for the US was they took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, as they struggled to score, struggled to get stops, and struggled to make free throws.

All in all, that’s not a great combination.

The Americans had Donovan Mitchell to thank for being in the game in the first place (29 points, six rebounds, four assists), but it was his Utah Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert who ultimately proved the game’s ultimate difference-maker.

Popovich never settled on a center he felt comfortable matching up with Gobert, and the USA’s small-ball counters enjoyed mixed fortunes over the course of the night. A final line of 21 points and 16 rebounds for Gobert told the story, as did his multiple outstanding defensive plays down the line.

From a Bucks perspective, Brook Lopez seemed like an obvious candidate for such a role, and when Myles Turner picked up two first quarter fouls, Lopez was the first option that Pop turned to. That four-and-a-half minute spell proved to be one of Gobert’s most subdued on both ends — although Lopez failed to make a field goal, and yet the Bucks center didn’t see the floor again.

Khris Middleton didn’t enjoy his own best scoring night as he went just 2-of-7 from the field for five points, but he was comfortably one of the best small ball options for the US. Middleton moved the ball exceptionally well, racked up five rebounds and three assists, and was a key cog in many of his team’s strongest runs.

To put it even more simply, if you want to pinpoint the spell where the US lost control and fell behind in the fourth quarter, it coincides with Middleton’s time on the bench.

With that, major World Cup disappointment is secured for Team USA. Equally certain is the fact that there will be no medals for any of the Bucks who have been battling it out in China.

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Just two classification games now remain for the US, in what will make for an incredible anti-climax to their 2019 FIBA World Cup.