After three uncharacteristically close games in group play, the U.S. escape to the knockout round after with a 100-97 win over France.
In a game in which Tony Parker sat out with a toe injury, the U.S. failed to pull away and allowed France to hang around deep into the fourth quarter.
It was the second straight game a much less talented squad played right with the U.S. and seemed completely confident in their ability to win the game. The only people on the floor who were surprised France was right there towards the end of the game were the Americans. If not for Klay Thompson’s 15-point third quarter, the U.S. may not have even come away with the win.
While there were some positive signs for the United States in the game, they still enter the quarterfinals facing big questions about their team’s ability to play as a contiguous group. They played more like a unit in the first quarter than they had for much of the Rio Olympics, but that didn’t last as the U.S. resorted to isolation as their offense stagnated in the second half.
In the past, the U.S. could always rely on a hard-nosed defense if their shots weren’t falling, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in Rio. The starter’s defense continues to be a weak point as three of the five U.S. starters finished with negative plus/minus numbers.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski adjusted the lineup ahead of the game, shifting Thompson back into the starting squad, with Paul George heading to the bench. The move appeared to work for spurts, as Jimmy Butler and George were able to champion a formidable defensive-oriented group.
Thompson finished as the game's leading scorer with 30 points, including seven three-pointers. He had struggled in every other game in the touranment, and if he can continue his hot shooting going foward, he'll be a major weapon for the U.S. Durant, who also has struggled in the group phase, had 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
For France, while they lost, they’ll still move on to the knockout round. Grouped on the same side of the bracket as the U.S., they’ll see this same team in the semis if both teams win in the quarters. With that in mind, France must come out of this game feeling very optimistic. If they can play basket-for-basket with the U.S. without Parker, what can they accomplish with their best player in tow.
Nando de Colo and Thomas Heurtel each had 18 points and were huge for France.Heurtel flirted with a triple-double, adding eight rebounds and nine assists to his team-high scoring total.
Prior to the game, USA had cancelled Monday’s practice, but after another disjointed performance it’ll be interesting to see if practice is back on. In the end, it was yet another demonstration of the amount of work this U.S. team needs if they expect to win gold in Rio.
The U.S. remains the most talented team in Rio, but they have a lot of work to do before the quarterfinals begin on Wednesday.