They may have taken the long route, but the United States men’s basketball team is back in the Olympic gold medal game for the fourth consecutive time.
The path hasn’t been easy. Finishing the deal will be even tougher.
After finding itself trailing by double digits in a second straight elimination game, the U.S. used a 32-10 run to push past Australia, 97-78 in the semifinal on Thursday, and punch its ticket to the gold medal game.
Date: August 6
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
How to watch: NBC (live on television) or Peacock (live stream)
They’ll now face France, which defeated Luka Doncic and Slovenia, 90-89 in their semifinal, after a game-saving block in the final seconds by free agent forward Nicolas Batum.
That block, which denied Slovenian guard Klemen Prepelic’s would-be game-winning layup attempt, will go down as one of the greatest plays in French basketball history, and it kept alive an impressive unbeaten streak to start these Olympics.
France is now 5-0, and will play for gold for the first time since 2000, when it lost to the United States in Sydney, Australia.
Slovenia will face Australia for the bronze medal at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 7 (NBCOlympics.com).
Team USA’s journey in Tokyo began with an upset loss at the hands of the French, who stunned Kevin Durant and Co. 83-76 in the teams’ opening game in group play on July 25.
Much has changed since then, though.
Team USA seems to have found its rhythm, having reeled off four straight wins by an average of 30.5 points. The U.S. is sharing the ball well, averaging an Olympics-best 25.6 assists per game.
Kevin Durant has been predictably outstanding, posting a team-high 19 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He scored 23 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the win over Australia.
Durant has also had plenty of help from Jayson Tatum (14.4 ppg) and Jrue Holiday (12 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.4 apg), and Damian Lillard and Devin Booker have filled in the gaps as well.
Booker was key in Team USA’s win over Australia, notching 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep.
Still though, the path to the final hasn’t been easy.
The United States trailed by 10 in the quarterfinals against Spain before using a 29-6 run to cruise to a 95-81 victory. They were down 15 before an aforementioned 32-10 run blew things open against Australia.
When the U.S. turns it on, there’s no doubt they’re incredibly difficult to stop. But it was a late run by France that made the difference in the teams’ opener in Tokyo.
The French finished off their landmark victory over Team USA with a 12-0 run down the stretch. New York Knicks free-agent pickup Evan Fournier was revelatory in that game, pouring in 28 points. He’s been the go-to-guy for the French throughout the competition, putting up 19.2 points per game.
France has a deep squad filled with current and former NBA players, including Fournier, Batum, three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, and Brooklyn Nets guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot.
Former Boston Celtics bigs Vincent Poirier and Guerschon Yabusele add depth in the paint, and former Spurs and Raptors guard Nando De Colo has been terrific alongside Thomas Heurtel at the point. Former Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina can also be a defensive menace.
France has won its five games by an average of 10.1 points. Anchored by Gobert, who ranks sixth in Player Efficiency Rating in these Olympics, the French have pulled down 43.4 rebounds per game, second only to Slovenia.
The key to this game may be 3-point shooting. The U.S. had its worst shooting performance of the Games when it finished 10-for-32 in the opener against France. They’ve since rebounded to shoot 41 percent from deep for the Olympics, tops in the tournament.
Players to Watch
United States: Kevin Durant. Much of Team USA’s success will come down to KD, who with the possible exception of Luka Doncic, is arguably the best player in this tournament. Sure, the U.S. has plenty of firepower outside of Durant, but Durant is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. When he’s on, the Americans are incredibly difficult to beat, and he’s been on a lot during these Olympics.
France: Evan Fournier may lead the team in scoring, but Rudy Gobert’s presence down low is crucial for France. His ability to rebound, defend and block shots is well-documented in the NBA, and he’s been characteristically dominant in these Olympics. Team USA will have to find ways to neutralize Gobert’s impact on the glass and in the paint if they want to be standing atop the podium at the end of the night.
The United States is looking to win its fourth straight gold in men’s basketball, something it hasn’t done since winning seven straight between 1936 and 1968. A win would also give the U.S. seven of the past eight gold medals and 16 overall.
France will make its third appearance in the gold medal game and is chasing its first gold medal in history. It previously finished with silver in 2000 and 1948, with both losses coming to the United States.