Americans hold off France 100-97 but defensive woes continue
POSTED: Aug 14, 2016 7:58 PM ET
Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski
U.S. Men's National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks following a close win over France.
RIO DE JANEIRO — As it has won four straight major international tournaments, the United States Men's National Team has played in some close games. There were the gold medal games in 2008 and 2012, the Brazil game in 2010 and the Lithuania game in 2012.
But never has the best basketball team in the world looked so vulnerable. Never has it had to go down to the wire three straight times. Never has its defense been picked apart so easily. And never has it seen such a dangerous field between it and a gold medal.
"I thought personally," Paul George admitted after Sunday's 100-97 win over France, "we were going to dominate these games and they were going to come easy."
George was wrong. And now things get serious. Pool play is done and the quarterfinals are Wednesday. It takes just three more wins to earn a fifth straight gold, but there's no recovering from a loss. And with the possibility of playing Spain, Argentina, Brazil or Croatia in the quarterfinals, the U.S. has to figure some things out quickly.
The U.S. is the only undefeated team left in the Olympic field. And for any other team, wins over Australia, Serbia and France are three great wins, no matter the score.
They haven't been dominating, but they haven't lost, either. We can say that they're struggling, but they're winning.
– France's Boris Diaw on Team USA
"They haven't been dominating, but they haven't lost, either," France's Boris Diaw said Sunday. "We can say that they're struggling, but they're winning."
But this is the United States, the nation with a 135-5 record in Olympic play and a 50-game winning streak. Wins by 10 points or less are not normal. At the World Cup of Basketball two years ago, the U.S. went 9-0, winning by no fewer than 21 points and by an average of 33. And that team didn't have Kevin Durant.
This team does, but has gotten him only 10 shots over the last two games. The offense was better on Sunday, but the defense continues to get shredded by pick-and-rolls and ball movement.
The Australia game on Wednesday was a step up in competition after six straight games against bad teams. But the Americans didn't build off of it, haven't adjusted to what their opponents are doing, and haven't cleaned up their issues. They couldn't put away a Serbia team that they dominated two years ago or a France team playing without Tony Parker (or Nando De Colo in the second half).
"Obviously, everybody wants us to win by a lot of points," Durant said. "But it's not how it's going to go this time."
Postgame: Klay Thompson
U.S. Men's National Team's Klay Thompson speaks following a highly contested victory over France.
Eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinals, and all eight have a legitimate chance to medal. Every team can win on any night and any team can lose any time it steps on the floor. That goes for the U.S. too.
"They're still the best team with the best players in the world," Nicolas Batum said. "We respect them. We can't just step on the court and just watch them play. You have to compete and you never know what could happen if you compete for 40 minutes."
Starting Wednesday, the pressure will be turned up. Fortunately, the U.S. has multiple guys who can save them when they need to make up for their poor defense with offensive flurries or big buckets. As bad as their defense has been and as infrequent as fast-break opportunities have been, the Americans haven't gone through any serious scoring droughts.
"We control our own destiny. We just got to trust each other on both sides of the ball. If we do that and play hard, I don't think we'll lose.
– Team USA's Klay Thompson
Carmelo Anthony came through against Australia and Serbia, and Klay Thompson lit up France. On any night, it could be Durant or Kyrie Irving who carries them. Despite a lack of cohesion, this is still the best offensive team in the tournament by a wide margin. And as good as their opponents have been, those opponents haven't gotten enough stops.
"I think all opponents for Team USA want to play defense, but none of them, up until now, could stop them," France coach Vincent Collet said Sunday. "We can't say we didn't play defense, just they are amazing on offense."
But amazing on offense might not be enough. France went back to the Olympic Village on Sunday believing it made too many mistakes and having given the U.S. some free points on technical and unsportsmanlike fouls.
The U.S. obviously knows it can play better as well. It still has the best talent in the field. It just needs to make better use of that talent.
"We control our own destiny," Thompson said. "We just got to trust each other on both sides of the ball. If we do that and play hard, I don't think we'll lose."
For Krzyzewski, it's all about the bottom line and not the margin of victory.
"The thing they've done consistent is they've won," Krzyzewski said of his team. "And at the end of the day, no one will ask you anything else except if you won."
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