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Beating Team USA is a dream come true for France's Gobert
DONGGUAN (China) - The last time Rudy Gobert faced Team USA, France lost a nail-biter at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Facing elimination against the Americans, the 7ft 1in (2.16m) center made sure their Quarter-Finals meeting would have a different outcome.
Anchoring the middle with assurance, Gobert collected 21 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and 1 steal in a performance to remember. The final scored, 89-79, may seem to imply that Les Bleus cruised to the victory, but the reality was they had to battle back from a seven-point fourth quarter deficit before earning their spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Semi-Finals.
"It's a huge win, and they are a very talented team," Gobert said after their landmark triumph. "We knew it was going to be a tough game, and it was. They didn't give us anything easy, and we stuck to the game plan."
Coming into this game, the native of Saint-Quentin in northern France had not put up big numbers in their two previous games - a squeaker of a win over Lithuania and a stinging defeat to Australia - but against the Americans, he seemed to have an extra pep in his step.
Could it have been because of something opposing big man Myles Turner of Team USA said earlier in the tournament, referring to Gobert as the "NBA Defensive Player of the Year, according to some"?
"Yeah, I saw it, but I see a lot of things every day," Gobert said. "At the end of the day, I do what I have to do on the court, and I just try to help my team win every time I step on the court."
Myles Turner on Rudy Gobert: "He’s the defensive player of the year, according to some.” https://t.co/XFn3nEZrM0— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) September 10, 2019
That's exactly what the Utah Jazz center did, especially in the final stages of the fourth quarter when USA were trying to to mount a last ditch rally to salvage their campaign. Gobert came up with big defensive plays, most notably a block on Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell, who despite ending up with 29 points for the game, failed to score a single point in the fourth period.
Asked about whether that play gave him bragging rights over Mitchell, the usually soft-spoken Gobert was quick to quell such talk, especially just two days after losing to another Jazz teammate, Joe Ingles, who plays for Australia.
"That's not really who I am," he said. "Sure, I like to talk a little trash. But I just lost to Australia a couple of days ago and it really hurt. I love Joe [Ingles], but I wanted to slap him. It hurts. Those experiences just make us better. I think this experience will make Donovan better. I have a goal with the national team, but we have a goal with Utah, too. And I'm excited about both."
But the NBA season is definitely not what's on Gobert's mind right now. He has his sights firmly set on what's in front of him, enjoying this incredible win over USA and looking ahead at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Les Bleus have to advance to the Final of the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time ever.
"Once again, it doesn't mean much if you don't win the gold," he explained. "But it's still something that will go down as one of the biggest wins of my career and one of the biggest wins in French basketball for sure. Now we have to get ready for Argentina, and we know it's going to be a huge challenge for us, too."
No matter the ending of this year's World Cup journey, Gobert can rest with the thought that he and his teammates in China have accomplished something unprecedented, something that will set their legacy apart from other iterations of the national team.
"I've been dreaming about this for a while," he said. "When I was a kid - like 20, 21 - I used to watch those games, and I was thinking, there's going to be a time - a short window of time - when we're going to be able to do it [beat USA]. Tonight before the game, I was just thinking about that. I was just thinking we might never get our opportunity again. I told that to the guys, especially Evan - the guys in my generation - we knew how big it would be for our legacy."
Speaking of this generation of France's finest, Gobert marvels at the commitment of every member of the team and their willingness to sacrifice for the team, for the country, for history.
Is this a special French team? Gobert certainly thinks so.
"Sometimes you are part of teams that are very talented and sometimes ones that are not as talented but a great group of guys," he said. "I think we have both. None of us are here for money. None of us are here for their own accomplishment. We are here for one thing, and it's to win. When our leaders are willing to sacrifice for the team, then the 12 guys do it."
"Look, we knew that nothing was going to be easy, and we know that we don't want to just be in the Semi-Finals," he added. "We want to win the gold, and nothing is going to be easy. It's probably going to be even harder, but we have the mental strength to accomplish that. Also, we’re always going to be there for one another. That’s what’s fun. Of course, making history is pretty fun too."