France Upsets U.S. at Basketball World Cup

DONGGUAN, China — The United States men’s national basketball team was knocked out of the FIBA World Cup on Wednesday night in a stunning quarterfinal loss to France.

France, led by the inside-outside combination of its top N.B.A. stars, Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier, beat the United States, the two-time defending champions, 89-79.

The United States had won 58 consecutive games in FIBA and Olympic competition, dating to its defeat to Greece in the 2006 world championship in Japan, which led to a bronze medal. It responded by winning the next five major championships in international basketball, including Olympic gold in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Wednesday’s loss dumped the Americans into the fifth-place bracket and validated a summer’s worth of fears that they were vulnerable because of high-profile players declining to participate.

The early exit also heaped more disappointment on Coach Gregg Popovich’s national team career, which has been filled with uncharacteristic setbacks compared with his two decades of success in the N.B.A. with the San Antonio Spurs.

This World Cup was Popovich’s first competition as U.S.A. Basketball’s head coach after painful stints as an assistant coach in 2002 and 2004, when the United States finished sixth in the world championships in Indianapolis and third in the Athens Olympics.

“Any loss hurts,” Popovich said. “This situation hurts more, but life goes on. This is very important. We would have loved to have won, just like any other team would love to win all their games in this tournament. But we’re all grown. We all have families, lives, and life goes on.”

After falling behind by 7 in the fourth quarter, France rallied behind Gobert, Fournier and the Knicks’ much-maligned guard, Frank Ntilikina, who scored 7 crucial points in the final quarter and ended with 11.

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz led the United States with 29 points in a breakout game, but he was scoreless in the fourth quarter as the United States’ team play, which had erased a 10-point deficit, fizzled at the worst time. The Americans also missed six fourth-quarter free throws.

Despite all of its high-profile absentees, Popovich’s team arrived at the Dongguan Basketball Center with a 5-0 record. The United States was also buoyed by the knowledge that Serbia — widely considered the tournament’s foremost threat to the United States — had been eliminated by Argentina on Tuesday night in the World Cup’s other standout upset thus far.

But the French didn’t flinch. Showing its depth in the wake of the recent retirements of the longtime national team standouts Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, France advanced to a semifinal on Friday in Beijing against Argentina. Spain and Australia will meet in the other semifinal.

The United States, meanwhile, will be forced to play in Dongguan again Thursday night, against Serbia, in the consolation bracket. Many had expected those two teams to meet in the final.

Wednesday’s game was played on France’s terms virtually from start to finish — apart from a second-half stretch in which an extremely small lineup used by Popovich briefly neutralized Gobert.

Fournier, of the Orlando Magic, scored a team-high 22 points, while Gobert, also of the Jazz, amassed 10 free-throw attempts in the first half alone with his repeated drives to the rim and finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds.

France grabbed its first double-digit lead early in the second half when Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets capitalized on a foul by Joe Harris of the Nets to complete a 4-point play.

Although the Americans were undefeated in the first two rounds, there had been warning signs that their 13-year winning streak was in jeopardy. The United States lost an exhibition game in Australia last month and needed Turkey to miss four consecutive free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining in overtime in this tournament to escape with a 93-92 victory.

The United States on Wednesday was without the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, who sprained his left ankle in overtime in the Turkey game.

The only solace for the Americans is that they qualified for the 2020 Olympics before the loss to France by finishing in the top two of Western Hemisphere teams, alongside Argentina.

“It’s the best French team I’ve seen, because they play both ends of the court,” Popovich said.