The smooth, almost effortless chemistry is still lacking, but you can’t argue with the results: Team USA will play for the gold medal on Sunday.
The outfit earned that opportunity with its 82-76 victory over Team Spain on Friday. Klay Thompson led the Americans with 22 points, but it was DeAndre Jordan’s nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks, two assists and a steal alongside his sprightly impact on both ends that helped push his team over the top.
Pau Gasol led Spain with 23 points, but the team’s quarterfinals hero against France – Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic – was largely absent. Mirotic, who notched 16 points by halftime of that win before finishing with a team-leading 24 against Team France, had zero points and four fouls by the half against USA (with five fouls needed for disqualification), finishing the game with seven points.
Spain did well to keep the game close for the first three quarters and the team’s defensive streak carried over from the win over France, but in spite of the lack of continuity on the offensive end for Team USA the favorites still pulled out the contest, turning this into a double-figure lead early in the fourth quarter.
Broken plays often were Team USA’s best friend in the win, as early stagnation on offense and the active hands defensively from Spain led to heaps of loose balls or improvisational runs, several times leading to tap-ins or corner three-pointers off of a kick out for the Americans. Carmelo Anthony continued to struggle after a phenomenal showing against Australia in pool play, finishing this contest with just seven points on 2-of-11 shooting, but Kyle Lowry was a spark off the bench, contributing nine points, three assists and three boards in limited minutes.
Thompson was the needed release. He’s contributed just one Klay Thompson-esque game during this Olympic run, the final contest of pool play against France, and the Golden State Warriors marksman seemed eager in this semifinal match. Thompson worked his way toward 17 first-half points, barely hesitating prior to ripping off corner threes, while mixing up his long-range play with an aggressive turnaround jumper and another cut and finish around the hoop.
It was the lone bit of sound offensive play off the ball for Team USA, a team filled with willing-yet-unnatural passers, working with lineups that tend to boggle. Coach Mike Krzyzewski continued to work in shifts, mostly alternating defense for offense, while overseeing stagnant play on the scoring end of the court. This hasn’t been a problem that has led to a loss for the Americans, who are now 7-0 in the 2016 Olympiad, but it doesn’t make for the sort of aesthetically pleasing basketball you’d expect with so many NBA All-Stars dotting the floor.
Meanwhile, a creative lineup that would approximate Golden State’s famed “Death Lineup” from the 2015-16 regular season — featuring Draymond Green at do-it-all center alongside Kevin Durant, Harrison Barnes, Thompson and Lowry — has yet to be even sniffed at by the coaching staff.
Instead, yet again, Team USA let the underdogs set the terms of engagement, and the Americans plugged their way around what wasn’t working.
Kyrie Irving clearly had someone in his ear about his terrible defense, and he responded with a few standout one-on-one possessions on that end. Irving, following a missed rebounding assignment on Spain’s first offensive play of the game, also attempted to crash the boards throughout. He wasn’t always successful but finished with five boards and 13 points in the win.
For most of the contest Irving’s counterpart was future Philadelphia 76er Sergio Rodriguez, who spelled starter Ricky Rubio after Rubio picked up two quick (but correct) fouls in the first quarter. Rodriguez was second on Spain with 11 points, adding five assists, but he was the only player outside of Pau Gasol to register double-figure points. Rubio and Mirotic weren’t alone with their foul trouble, as Team USA’s DeMarcus Cousins fouled out after limited minutes, while both teams were hit with five first-half technicals for griping at the overeager refs, and a rarely seen Delay of Game call on Spain.
Even after fighting its way back from an 0-2 start in pool play to earn itself a chance at a bronze medal on Sunday, Spain likely sees this turnout as a disappointment. The team earned silver just behind Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and likely wants another go at the Americans in the wake of what sadly turned into a choppy, mostly artless game.
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