Behind Klay Thompson’s 30 points that were fueled by seven made 3-pointers, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (5-0) held off a late rally by France (3-2) to earn a 100-97 victory on Sunday afternoon at Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro. The win, the USA’s 22 straight win in Olympic play, earned the Americans the number one seed for Goup A and Wednesday’s quarterfinal play.
The U.S. will meet the No. 4 finishing team from Group B, which will not be determined until after tomorrow’s final preliminary round games in Group B.
The quarterfinals will be played on Aug. 17, the semifinals are on Aug. 19, and the finals are slated for Aug. 21.
“It felt good to see the ball go in, I’m not going to lie, but it felt better to get the win,” stated Thompson. “I don’t care if I shoot 10 percent the rest of the tournament if we win the gold medal, that’s all that really matters. It’s something I can build off and it definitely helps.”
Kyrie Irving finished with 10 points and tied the U.S. Olympic game record for assists after passing out 12.Kevin Durant shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and aided the USA cause with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. Carmelo Anthony was the fourth American to score in double–digits and finished with 10 points, four rebounds and five assists.
“We’re really pleased to finish pool play 5-0. Offensively we made up some big strides this afternoon,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “When we had leads, our defense let up. So, we have to keep working on the defense, but I think a lot of positive things on the offensive end today and going forward.
“Now we’re into a time when everybody’s going to be 0-0. It’s been a very interesting tournament because of pool play. The pool play on the other side (Group B) is incredible. We’re going to have to wait until the very end of tomorrow night to find out who we’re playing. But, we made some strides going forward today. There’s no question about it,” added Coach K.
Leading 59-52 with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter, Thomspon, who had made just 3-of-16 tries from behind the arc in the United States’ first four games, got his shot going, and over the course of the game’s next four minutes drained five straight 3-pointers to help propel the USA to a 16-point, 78-62, advantage with 2:22 to play in the third.
Carrying an 81-69 lead into the game’s final 10 minutes, France took advantage of several U.S. turnovers to rally and with 5:27 left in the contest had cut the deficit to 85-81.
Irving made the pass of the night to help shift momentum to the Americans’ side. As he fell to the court just across half court, Irving somehow made a spectacular pass to Kevin Durant for a highlight-reel, alley-opp dunk, and the U.S. upped its lead to 87-81.
“I wish I had my footing,” remarked Irving on the game changing play. “I was turning around at the same time, and I ended up tripping over my own feet, but I’m glad he (Durant) dunked it home. I feel that was definitely a momentum shift for us that we needed.”
Followng a free throw from DeMarcus Cousins, a jumper from Anthony and a pair of free throws from Irving, the USA regained the game’s momentum and took a 93-83 lead with 3:29 remaining.
Moving ahead 100-90 after Cousins redeposited an offensive rebound with 2:25 to play, France made the U.S. sweat, scoring the game’s last seven points, including a 3-pointer by Antione Diot with a second left to make the final 100-97.
France, which did not have the services of NBA all-star guard Tony Parker because of an injured toe, jumped out to a 9-5 lead. Tied 12-12, Thompson scored five of the USA’s next seven points as the U.S. moved ahead 19-14. But, in what would become a reoccurring theme, France regrouped and rallied. Outscoring the USA 8-2 over the next two minutes, France went ahead 22-21 with 2:02 left in the opening stanza.
Behind five points from DeMar DeRozan and four more from Paul George, the U.S. went on a 9-0 run, and when the first quarter buzzer sounded the red, white and blue led 30-24.
The USA increased its advantage to 11 points, 39-28, after Thompson converted one of two free throws with 5:45 to go before halftime. France closed the gap to five late in the second, and at intermission the USA owned a 55-46 lead.
“The tournament has been great,” said four-time Olympian Anthony. “We have some great competition out there, some great games. Tonight was another great game, and now (the) medal round is coming up, and we got to get even more prepared for that.”