Which American will step up to help squad achieve ultimate goal?
POSTED: Aug 20, 2016 6:44 PM ET
Coach K on Pursuit of Gold Medal
Team USA's head coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about his pursuit to bring home the gold medal.
RIO DE JANEIRO — It's been a bit of a bumpy ride, but that won't matter for the United States Men's National Team if they get the job done on Sunday.
It would be 15 gold medals in 18 appearances at the Olympics and five straight gold medals in the Olympics or World Cup of Basketball. How they did it, that their roster was somewhat flawed, and how poorly they looked defensively at times won't matter.
Here are a few things to know as the U.S. plays Serbia for the gold on Sunday (2:45 p.m. ET).
It will be the final game for USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has helped establish culture and continuity in his 11 years running the National Team. He had won three national championships by the time he was named head coach by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, but Krzyzewski still had some lessons to learn on this level.
Krzyzewski has a 59-1 record with the National Team. That one loss, to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship after which Krzyzewski referred to the Greek players by their numbers, taught him that non-NBA players must be scouted and respected.
Despite that setback, Krzyzewski has earned the respect of the NBA's biggest stars, not an easy thing for a college coach. He demands their attention and he gets them motivated to play for their country. And these days, he's eager to tell you how good Milos Teodosic (Serbia) is or how much Zhou Qi (China) has improved.
He's already the most decorated Men's coach in USA Basketball history. And he has a chance to finish his National Team career with a fifth gold medal on Sunday.
Defense has typically been the strength of U.S. National Teams. With the Americans' combination of speed and athleticism, as well as an ability to shuttle in new lineups every few minutes, they can overwhelm a lot of opponents.
But if they're not disciplined and focused, the Americans' aggressiveness on defense can be taken advantage of. That was the case against Australia, Serbia and France, who combined to score 117 points per 100 possessions in the last three games of pool play, as the U.S. struggled to defend good pick-and-roll play and consistent ball and player movement.
The defense was improved against Argentina and Spain, but needs 40 more minutes of minimal mistakes to win gold. Serbia has skilled players at every position, will continue to move bodies and move the ball, and is led by Teodosic, one of the most brilliant point guards in the world.
"It's on us," Paul George said after Friday's win over Spain. "Defensively, we got to continue to get tied together."
Carmelo Anthony had a big night against Australia, Klay Thompson went for 30 against France, and Kevin Durant took over against Argentina. George and DeAndre Jordan have made big impacts in the last two games with their activity on defense. And Kyrie Irving has sprinkled in some big shots.
Against its tougher opponents, the U.S. has needed somebody to lead the charge, either with scoring or with defense. Durant looked like he was ready to take over after the Argentina game, but had a relatively quiet afternoon against Spain.
"Offensively we haven't had a game yet where all the guys get hot," Krzyzewski said. "But thank goodness we've had it where at least one of them have had an outstanding night."
These are the best players in the world. They all have the ability to have a big game on Sunday. If they can get multiple guys in a rhythm offensively, it will take some pressure off their defense.
"When the stakes are the highest is when we all play the best," Thompson said, "and there won't be any higher [stakes] than on Sunday. Expect a great effort from all of us."
The U.S. defense was terrible in its last three pool play games. And Friday's semifinal vs. Spain was rather ragged. But in each case, the Americans did enough to win.
The result of the game is all that matters. This team has won four of its seven games by 10 points or less and its average margin of victory has been smaller than any U.S. Team since 2006.
"It's expected of us to win by a lot," Durant said earlier this week. "But when it comes down to it, we've been closing out games."
"The thing they've done consistent is they've won," Krzyzewski said about his team. "And at the end of the day, no one will ask you anything else except if you won."
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