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.
Facing a team in China that they blew out on two pre-Olympic exhibitions (by 50 and 49 points, respectively), the United States was expected to begin its run to a fourth consecutive gold medal in men’s basketball with an impressive showing at the Carioca Arena Saturday night. Mike Krzyzewski’s team took care of business as expected, battling through a couple short stretches of sloppiness to defeat the Chinese by the final score of 119-62 to move to 1-0 in Group A play.
While China managed to score the first two points of the game, that was the only semblance of control that they would enjoy in this one. Kevin Durant scored a game-high 25 points and dished out six assists for the Americans, with DeMarcus Cousins adding 17 points and five rebounds and Kyrie Irving 12 points and five assists. Irving made four three-pointers on the night, with three of those coming during a third quarter stretch in which he made three consecutive from beyond the arc. Paul George, who two years ago suffered a horrific leg injury that kept him out of that years World Cup of Basketball, added 15 points in the win.
The Americans pulled away during the latter stages of the first quarter, leading 30-10 through one, and a 16-0 run in the third quarter proved to be the catalyst the United States “needed” to win by 57 points. They shared the ball offensively, with 31 of their 38 made field goals being assisted and six players finishing the game with at least three assists.
The United States limited China to 37 percent shooting from the field while also forcing the underdogs into 21 turnovers. Yi Jianlian, who spent some time earlier in his career in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, paced China with 25 points and six rebounds. The United States returns to action Monday night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern when they take on Venezuela, another team the Americans beat during their pre-Olympic exhibition tour.
The reunion of Kyrie Irving and Mike Krzyzewski is one of the fun subplots for Team USA as the Duke tandem get together to go for gold in Rio.
In a solid piece from ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin, Irving speaks of wanting to win the championship he failed to net with Coach K in Durham during his “one-and-done” campaign in 2010-11.
In another interesting note — and we can debate for hours whether it was conscious at all — Irving reiterates his excitement at Kevin Durant helping Golden State become a super team. Well, an extra super team.
From NBC’s SportsWorld:
“We’re representing something that’s bigger than all of us, and that’s our country. For me, I just relish the opportunity to have a guy like a Klay Thompson, a KD, and Draymond Green all on one team, and I know those guys are going to compete as hard as ever.”
Imagine being able to do that every night for 82 games and more, Kyrie. It’s funny that the Dream Team scenarios created so long ago went from absurd collection of talent to something happening in both the NBA and the Olympics.