When Jerry Colangelo was handed the keys to USA Basketball in April 2005, he was entrusted with the task of rejuvenating a program that had been knocked from its perch as the most dominant force in international basketball. A bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens showed that the post-Dream Team practice of simply throwing together 12 All-Stars would no longer work against international teams that were improving and spending more time together playing in international competition.
One of Colangelo’s first moves was to hire Mike Krzyzewski as his head coach, and since that point USA Basketball has strengthened its position as the best in the world. Sunday, the Americans won their third consecutive Olympic gold medal with a 96-66 win over Serbia in Krzyzewski’s final game as head coach.
Against a team that they beat by just three points in pool play, the U.S. grabbed control of the game in the second quarter and didn’t look back. Kevin Durant got going offensively, finishing the game with 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the field, and Paul George’s defense on Serbian guard Milos Teodosic kept the silver medalists from getting much of anything done on the other end.
The U.S. led by 23 points at the half and by 36 after three quarters, leading by as much as 41 before Serbia managed to close the margin in the game’s final minutes. Nemanja Nedovic led Serbia, which had never won an Olympic medal in basketball as an independent nation, with 14 points.
DeMarcus Cousins added 13 points and Klay Thompson 12, and Carmelo Anthony scored seven points in his final game in international play as he announced his retirement from USA Basketball following the win.
But it was the defense, which was much-maligned during pool play, that turned what had the potential to be a competitive game into a rout. All three opponents in bracket play shot less than 40 percent from the field after the U.S. allowed their last three opponents in pool play (Australia, France and Serbia) to shoot better than 50 percent from the field. When the chips were down the U.S. raised their level of play, ensuring that one of the men responsible for the program’s resurgence would go out on top.
With Krzyzewski (88-1 as head coach; 24-0 in the Olympics) moving on, Colangelo will work with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to ensure that the U.S. not only remains on top but doesn’t take that status for granted. And given the work that’s been done over the last 11 years or so, it’s hard to imagine USA Basketball taking a step back anytime soon.
The U.S. men’s basketball team met Spain for the third consecutive Olympics Friday afternoon, albeit in the semifinals as opposed to the gold medal game where those other two meetings occurred. But the result was the same, with the Americans winning 82-76 to advance to Sunday’s gold medal game. Next up for Mike Krzyzewski’s team will be either Australia or Serbia, two teams that gave them fits in pool play.
Klay Thompson, who’s had some trouble establishing a consistent rhythm offensively in Rio, shot the ball well (17 first-half points) and finished with a team-high 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field. He was one of three double-digit scorers for the U.S., with Kevin Durant adding 14 points and Kyrie Irving 13, and DeAndre Jordan was the anchor defensively with 16 rebounds and four blocks to go along with nine points.
WATCH: USA beats Spain, advances to gold medal game
Given the presence of Pau Gasol, the U.S. big men were of greater importance defensively than they’ve been through much of the Olympics. And with DeMarcus Cousins struggling with foul trouble during his limited time on the court, Jordan stepped forward in a big way. As was the case against Argentina Jordan was the rim protector the U.S. needed, and having that kind of defender on the back line gives the perimeter defenders more incentive to buckle down as well.
And if Sunday’s opponent is Australia, with their deep front line led by Andrew Bogut and guards adept at getting to the basket (especially Patty Mills), the Americans will need more of the same from the Los Angeles Clippers center.
It was tough for either team to establish much of a rhythm in the first half, with the combination of physical play and a tight whistle resulting in early foul trouble and a total of five technical fouls for the two teams. However in the second half the U.S. was better offensively, leading by as much as 13 points. Spain wouldn’t allow them to run away with the game, but the margin was big enough to ensure that they would be playing for their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Gasol led the Spaniards with 23 points and Sergio Rodriguez added 11.
France would not go away, but the United States simply rolled with the punches en route to another close win in the Rio Olympics on Sunday.
Klay Thompson scored 30 points as the United States built a 12-point fourth quarter lead that sank as low as three, but the Yanks held on to beat France 100-97.
Still, the U.S. finished 5-0 with a point differential of plus-204, and will face the fourth-placed team from Pool B in the quarterfinals. That could still be Croatia, Spain, Brazil, or Nigeria.
WATCH: Full game replay
Kyrie Irving didn’t need to shoot to be a star in the first half, dishing out five assists on 0-for-1 shooting as the Americans built their lead.
Kevin Durant added 17, and Irving finished with 12 assists.
Thomas Heurtel was excellent for France, dishing out 9 assists in addition his eight rebounds and 18 points. Nando De Colo also scored 18 in the loss.