Team USA beat Brazil and Australia beat France, setting up an epic showdown between Utah Jazz players Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in the FIBA quarter-finals.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Team USA managed to escape FIBA group play unscathed as they finished off Brazil on Monday by a score of 89-73. Although the first half was close, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and his American teammates managed to turn up the pressure in the second half to cruise to a quite comfortable victory.
Speaking of Mitchell, this wasn’t his most memorable game from a scoring standpoint by any means. He finished with just six points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field. However, where Donovan was truly spectacular was in his facilitating as he finished the contest with a game-high seven assists.
One aspect of Mitchell’s first two seasons in the NBA that has drawn some criticism has been his lack of getting other teammates involved and racking up assists. Part of that has had to do with him shouldering such a heavy offensive burden and having teammates that couldn’t be relied on to make open shots. However, if his passing in FIBA is any indication of what lies ahead in the NBA regular season, then Utah Jazz fans should be thrilled dreaming about what he’ll be able to do next to the likes of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Apart from Mitchell, Team USA was paced by the scoring efforts of Kemba Walker and Myles Turner who finished with 16 points apiece. Turner was crucial in the bout as he pulled down eight rebounds while Kemba managed five assists of his own for a well-rounded performance.
But the true game of the day, not only for Utah Jazz fans but for basketball fans in general, was without a doubt the battle between Rudy Gobert‘s France and Joe Ingles‘ Australia. The game was an absolute dogfight from the very start with neither team giving up an inch. The contest was knotted at halftime, and neck-and-neck all throughout the second half. France managed to gain a minor advantage in the third quarter, but the Boomers rallied back in the fourth.
Ultimately, when all was said and done, the Australians wound up coming out on top by a narrow margin of 100-98. The victory was a big one for the Aussies, not only because it came over a fellow top team in the world, but because it put them in a much easier matchup in the quarter-finals. Australia will get to play the Czech Republic on Wednesday, whereas France will be paired up against the ever-daunting Team USA. More on that in a moment.
Joe Ingles was a menace for the Boomers in the win over France as he put up 23 points, second only to Patty Mills‘ incredible 30-point effort. Ingles also shot a solid 8-of-15 from the field which included three made three-pointers. He even made a smooth drive to the hoop to score over his Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert, a moment which I’m sure he’ll be sure to remind the Stifle Tower about in the upcoming Jazz training camp.
On the other side, Rudy Gobert had a less than riveting contest. Sure, he managed two blocks and a surprising six assists, which was a positive, but he only scored eight points and grabbed just four rebounds. Even worse, he struggled against Australia’s Aron Baynes who went off to the tune of 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Sure, 15 of those points came on an uncharacteristic five made three-pointers, but it nevertheless wasn’t Rudy’s best outing overall.
That could spell bad news for Team USA, though, as they’re sure to be facing an angry Rudy who will want to redeem himself in the upcoming bout. Gobert is as passionate as they come, and his French team, being one of the best in FIBA action, is not going to be one to lie down against the United States. They’re a talented group that takes a lot of pride in their country and in their basketball prowess, and you can bet they’ll be hungry to bounce back and capitalize against a vulnerable Team USA.
For the American squad, this will definitely represent the toughest contest they’ve faced yet. And unfortunately, it will also come with the highest stakes. Wednesday’s bout between the US and France as well as Australia versus the Czech Republic will represent each team’s first contest of quarter-final play wherein teams are eliminated with a loss.
In other words, it’s do or die for the Americans in a game that figures to be a doozy. The French squad is packed with NBA talent, including Rudy Gobert, scorer extraordinaire Evan Fournier, sharpshooter Nicolas Batum, young stud Frank Ntilikina, and Boston Celtics rookie Vincent Poirier. They have a nice combo of scoring and defense that will present a tough challenge for the US.
Myles Turner will perhaps have his work cut out for him more than any other member of the US squad as he’ll be tasked with staying strong against Rudy Gobert and also attacking him at the rim. The good thing about Turner is that he does have decent range for a big man, so ideally he’ll be able to stretch Gobert out similar to how Baynes managed to be effective for Australia in the final game of group play.
The United States will also likely need to get their offense going to a significant degree. They have hung their hat on defense throughout the tournament, and that has been important, but with legitimate scorers like Fournier and Batum, the United States will have to be able to match wits with points as well.
Many felt that Donovan Mitchell would be able to pack a scoring punch for Team USA, but he hasn’t quite done as much as expected. Hopefully, going head-to-head against his Jazz teammate Gobert will bring out his competitive spirit to a new degree and inspire him to go off in a way that very likely will be much-needed if the US is to prevail.
The dress rehearsals are long over and Team USA’s margin for error will be as small as ever in this upcoming bout versus France. If they play as they did against Turkey, there’s no questioning that they’ll be toppled by a far more advanced French squad that will capitalize on any and all errors the Americans make.
However, France is also a flawed squad that surely doesn’t enjoy the depth or overall athleticism of Team USA. If the United States can play as they did against the likes of Greece, Japan and in the second half versus Brazil, they should be very much able to take care of business against the Frenchmen.
The winner of France versus the USA will go on to face the winner of Serbia against Argentina, in which Serbia is favored. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Joe Ingles’ Australia will start against the Czech Republic, then take on the winner of Spain and Poland. Obviously, both Australia and Spain are heavy favorites, but the battle between those two should they meet will be an exhilarating one.
Therefore, if the Americans manage to advance to the Finals, they’ll likely find themselves pitted against either Ricky Rubio‘s Spain squad or Joe Ingles’ Boomers in what could be a contest for the ages.
The indisputable fact, though, is that while FIBA group play has been entertaining, the real excitement is about to begin. The quarter-finals signify that a loss means immediate elimination, so each remaining contest could very well be the last for the Jazzmen participating.