Olympic Men’s Basketball: U.S.A. d. France

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USA 100, France 97 | Box Score

Close calls against Australia and Serbia didn’t exactly wake a sleeping giant. Maybe the United States aren’t going to play uninspired defense once the games have a little more meaning, and France showed Sunday that the Americans are going to have to increase their intensity as the competition gets more serious. Yes, the U.S. came away with a 100-97 victory to wrap up the group stage a perfect 5-0, but the defensive cracks that have been showing were on display once again. Even with Tony Parker resting a sore toe and ceding the starting role to Thomas Huertel, the Americans had to rely on their otherworldly offense to out-race a French layup parade they seemed unable to slow for long stretches.

France started out relatively strong, dropping 24 in the first quarter despite the Americans looking far more interested defensively than they have in recent games, a fleeting state. Huertel and Nando De Colo, in particular, got things going early on with the type of constant movement that’s given the U.S. some trouble so far in the tournament. De Colo, by the way, finished with 18 points and five assists, continuing an excellent tournament for the reigning EuroLeague MVP. While he recently signed a multi-year deal to remain in Russia with CSKA Moscow, the Raptors still own his Early Bird rights and his rights as a restricted free agent, should he ever opt to make an NBA return. Huertel was great, too, with a 19-8-9 line and some big plays throughout.

Despite the strong offensive start, the French still found themselves behind six, with the U.S. shooting 75 percent from inside the arc in the frame, and the French defense without an answer for Kevin Durant (nine points in a very aggressive six-minute stretch to start the game), and DeMar DeRozan (seven free-throw attempts). Paul George took his turn causing issues in the second, finishing a tough alley-oop from DeRozan.

The Americans pushed the lead to as many as 11 in the second, but France’s guard play kept them in it, especially once the starters for both sides returned to the game. (It was basically lingchi along the baseline for stretches, and this was all without Parker.) France would enter the half down nine, having shot 65 percent on attempts inside the 3-point line but just 2-of-8 from behind it, while the U.S. rolled to 55 points on the same 56-percent shooting mark overall (assisting on every single field goal they hit in the half), the difference made up by a passive 19-6 free-throw attempt disparity.

The second half brought more of the same, with DeMarcus Cousins struggling through foul (three) and turnover (four) issues standing out, in particular. Some timely – and ridiculous – long-range shooting from Klay Thompson (he finished with 30 points on 7-of-13 from outside) helped maintain the lead, even as Huertel (who also picked up a third foul) and De Colo kept causing problems.

Seriously, Thompson went nova for a little bit, and the result was a 12-point U.S. lead entering the fourth, one that felt mostly insurmountable despite the defensive issues.

https://twitter.com/SheaSerrano/status/764891476484427776

France was able to trim the lead to six with seven minutes to play in the final frame, with a small U.S. lineup (Durant was the de facto five) going cold on the offensive end. Joffrey Lauvergne missing a pair of free throws was a missed opportunity, but he came back shortly after with a huge finish to cut it to four, only for Kyrie Irving and Durant to link up for a ridiculous alley-oop in response.



Things continued much the same way from there, with the U.S. able to keep France just at arm’s length in the closing minutes. Irving’s playmaking and Cousins’ physical presence inside carried the offense, and France wasn’t able to close that final margin (Antoine Diot’s three at the buzzer cut the final score to three; France didn’t have an actual last chance to tie).

The U.S. hang on, again, despite allowing an opponent to shoot 56 percent overall and 67 percent inside the arc. Maybe they’re so talented on offense that it’s sustainable through the medal round, but you’d have to think a group this good will realize they need to find another gear, and then find it.

As for the two Toronto Raptors on the team, they continued to play important supporting roles. Kyle Lowry continues to be the team’s best option at the point when they’re in need of a defensive boost (they might be best off without a point guard if they run into more late-and-close situations, though Irving was great offensively in this one), and he added three assists in 13 minutes. DeRozan, meanwhile, continued his week-long parade to the rim, and but also continued struggling at the defensive end, save for showing some nice anticipation jumping passing lanes. He chipped in nine points in his 12 minutes, five of them coming at the free-throw line.

Here’s how Lowry and DeRozan produced for the group stage as a whole:

lowry ddr

The U.S. now sits and waits to find out their opponent for Wednesday’s quarterfinal. They’ll take on whichever team finishes fourth in Group B, but that could still be any of Spain, Croatia, Brazil, or Nigeria depending on how Monday’s slate of games turn out. Teams have been jockeying to avoid the Americans – first and third in Group B won’t see the U.S. until a potential gold medal game – but there’s uncertainty top-to-bottom with a very interesting set of matchups tomorrow. France, meanwhile, finished third in Group A and could see the U.S. again in the semi-finals.

If nothing else, the U.S. can use the next two days off to figure out what they can change on defense after three shaky outings on that side of the ball. Nobody, including oddsmakers, has wavered in considering the U.S. a strong favorite, and nothing they showed Sunday should change that, though France affirmed the U.S. vulnerabilities. That should make for more intriguing viewing in the knockout stage than we all maybe expected two weeks ago, which is appreciated.

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