Four Celtics-focused takeaways after USA saw their 58-game international winning streak snapped to France in a 89-79 loss in the FIBA World Cup Semifinals.
Kemba Walker picked a tough night to have his worst game for Team USA: The point guard had been battling an illness over the past few days in China and looked nowhere close to full strength in this defeat. Things started ugly early for the All-Star as he committed three turnovers in the first quarter thanks to some full-court pressure by France’s backcourt. From there, Walker never really got into a rhythm on the offensive end, going just 2-of-9 from the field to score 10 points over his 25 minutes. He also dished out zero assists and battled foul trouble in the second half.
The Americans made a big third-quarter run with Walker resting to rally from a 10-point first half deficit, but USA promptly gave back the lead while Walker was on the floor during a 18-5 run by France over crunch time. Walker wasn’t the sole reason for the collapse by any means but an off-night shooting (2/6 FG in fourth quarter) helped stall a USA offense that was only able to muster 13 points in the deciding frame.
In effect, we saw some of the limitations a 6-foot-1 Walker has against an elite rim protector like Rudy Gobert during crunch time. Walker struggled to finish in traffic against the big man, especially with the FIBA officials swallowing their whistles in the closing minutes. The 29-year-old did manage to draw a 3-point foul against Gobert with USA trailing by six and less than a minute remaining, but Walker proceeded to miss two of his three free throws.
It was a tough performance during what was an otherwise great tournament for Walker. It’s fair to wonder how heavily involved he should have been down the stretch of this game given his struggles on both ends and France’s size advantage but Gregg Popovich wasn’t going to go away from his best player in the knockout stage with limited options on the bench apparently. A more versatile small ball lineup may have been a better fit (Smart/Mitchell/Brown/Middleton/Barnes?) with Walker struggling but Popovich showed loyalty to his star. The Americans needed someone to carry them down the stretch and Walker was not up to the task on this night. To be fair, none of his teammates were either in the fourth quarter.
Marcus Smart’s missed free throws overshadow a gritty performance: Despite facing off against one