Team USA Squeezes Out Another Close Win, Defeats France 100-97

Kevin Durant; Credit - Getty Images

Kevin Durant; Credit – Getty Images

By Reuven Gonzales,

In the fifth and final preliminary game for the United States Men, they eeked out their third straight nail-biter by beating France by a mere 3 points. Going into the game, many were looking to see if the U.S. would bounce back after bad showings against Australia and Serbia in their previous two games. Unfortunately, for both the team and their fans, it was another disappointing display against a team sitting out their superstar, Tony Parker, point guard for the San Antonio Spurs. In a game separated mainly by a single scoring run, it was a hard-fought battle between both teams for the entire duration of the matchup.

On the United States’ first possession, Kyrie Irving pushed a semi-fastbreak to get DeMarcus Cousins the dunk to put the U. S. on the board. Kevin Durant provided the scoring in the first quarter though, with his first points coming from a curl at the free throw line where he received the ball, took it into the lane, and made a layup despite being fouled. He also sank a three-pointer, which he used to his advantage on the next play that drew the defense close to prevent him from heating up from outside. With his defender playing up, Durant faked the three to get his man off his feet, and then drove past him to lay it in at the rim. He scored his 8th and 9th points breaking away from the pack off a turnover for his third layup. Despite Durant’s fast start, the French stayed calm and kept pace with the scoring through their half court offense. They moved the ball very well, and quickly, to keep the U.S. defense scrambling and created several open shots. The U.S. didn’t help their own cause either. On one play, after turning the ball over, the United States barely got back on fastbreak defense and when they did, there was no communication and France made the uncontested layup directly underneath the basket. Although the U.S. had a very solid quarter offensively, 11/16 field goals, 10 assists, and only 2 turnovers, so did France because of the subpar American defense. It was only a 6-point game after one, 30-24.

 

Opening the second, the United States ran a set play that resulted in an alley-oop dunk by DeMar DeRozan from Paul George. This quarter was much like the first though, where neither team really pulled away. The scoring for Team USA was more balanced, however, with more players getting involved and making shots. Jimmy Butler hit a baseline, stepback jumper. DeMar DeRozan passed up an open three to take a dribble closer into an empty spot for a midrange basket. Kyrie Irving left his defender glued to the hardwood with a stepback crossover that gave him the space to drain the elbow jumper. And towards the end of the quarter, Paul George drove into the lane and found DeAndre Jordan for a powerful, two-handed throw down. But France still kept within striking distance, again, through their half court offense. The open floaters, jumpshots, and easy baskets kept coming for the French. Thomas Heurtel continued to penetrate his way into the paint, Nando De Colo put in 9 points, and Rudy Gobert was able to get a couple of dunks. It felt like the United States had taken at least a slight hold on the game, leading 55-46 at the half, but they still hadn’t pushed the game out of reach yet.

Coming out of the locker rooms, the U.S. played with a little more excitement. Carmelo Anthony hit a jumpshot from 15 feet, the defense made an appearance and forced France into a shotclock violation, and Kevin Durant scored on another fastbreak dunk. And then just as we had seen in the first two United States games, a Team USA player absolutely caught fire from 3-point land; this time, it was Klay Thompson. Through one stretch of the third quarter, he hit 5 straight from deep, energizing himself, his teammates, and the crowd. He was unconscious from outside, splashing in three after three, and looking unstoppable. Thompson was so hot that on his fifth three-pointer, he first had to soar to save the ball from going out of bounds on a cross court pass from Kevin Durant, and when he landed was still struggling to stay inbounds with his defender being right underneath him. With no other option, he threw the ball up towards the basket and even that fell for him. As they say, when you’re hot, you’re hot. The United States only increased their halftime lead by 3, 81-69, at the end of three quarters, but the momentum shift could be felt and the U.S. felt confident.

They apparently felt a little too confident however, starting the fourth quarter as if they were up by a much larger margin than 12. France pounced on the United States, going on a 10-2 run to quickly cut the lead to 4 by the 6-minute mark. They were getting open shots again and the U.S. was being lazy with the ball, looking completely stunned and confused as to what was happening. The play that seemed to seal the game for the United States though occurred on a fastbreak where Kyrie Irving stumbled and began falling along the sideline but was still able to flip the ball up from half court to Kevin Durant for him to throw down over the French defense. That play brought the lead back up to 6, 87-81, after France put a scare into the U.S. with their attempted comeback. The United States was just barely able to hold on to what was really a 6-point win, had it not been for a meaningless three from France’s Antoine Diot at the buzzer, and remain unbeaten in these Olympics.

At the end of the day, it’s the wins and losses that matter the most and the U.S. is still 5-0. As the Olympic tournament now turns into elimination games, it becomes even more so about simply surviving and advancing. Should Team USA play like they have in the last 3 games however, they won’t be advancing very far. Australia has been a surprisingly good team, shocking France by 21 points in their first game, and thus giving the U.S. a run for their money wasn’t as alarming. It was also only the third game for the United States and their first close one, so many just attributed it to an off night. However, the U.S has not been able to right the ship and the concern that they won’t play to their full potential still lingers. As Doug Collins said during the broadcast, they seem to be lacking in the desire to turn it on and really put a team away when they need to; the championship urgency isn’t there yet. The team itself knows it has to be better also. A camera shot of Mike Krzyzewski immediately following the end of the game showed a head coach disgruntled and upset with how his team had just performed. In his post-game interview, Klay Thompson, despite being the difference in the game with 30 points, looked very unsatisfied and called out the United States’ defense for not being stronger. Maybe the upped intensity of starting real play for the title now will light the fire under the United States team that they need to get to where everyone expects them to finish; as back-to-back-to-back Olympic gold medalists. Team USA will be the Group A number 1 seed and their opponent in Wednesday’s quarterfinal game has yet to be determined.

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