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Saturday night’s Gold Medal Olympic Basketball game between the United States and France will be a rematch of Pool A’s opening game, which France won. The French also defeated the U.S. in the 2019 FIBA Cup.
So, the French have a two-game winning streak against the Americans, which is unheard of in international basketball. Especially in the day and age when the United States is using top-tier NBA players. Now the question becomes, can France beat the United States for a third consecutive time?
How They Got Here
France won arguably the best game of the Olympic tournament over Slovenia on a block by Los Angeles Clippers’ forward Nicolas Batum with less than four seconds left on the clock. Former San Antonio Spurs’ guard Nando de Colo scored 23 points and New York Knicks’ guard Evan Fournier added 20 points in the one-point victory. France overcame the third triple-double in Olympic history from Slovenia’s Luka Doncic in the game.
The French are undefeated in the Olympics and possess everything you need in a team to win the Gold Medal on Saturday. They have rim protection and rebounding from Utah Jazz All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
They also have A group of aggressive guards in de Colo and Fournier and players that do the little things like Batum and Brooklyn Nets swingman Timothe’ Luwauwu-Cabarrot. The group that will take the floor against the United States aren’t scared of them, as many of them either play in the NBA or have played in the league at some point in time.
After their loss earlier to France, the U.S. have turned up their play to a different level. In the semi-final win over Australia, they were down 41-26 in the second quarter. They missed their first 10 three-point attempts and they were looking like a team getting ready to play for the Bronze medal.
But then like in other games in this tournament, Brooklyn Nets’ forward Kevin Durant took over. Team USA went on a 25-4 run with Durant scoring 10 of those points. Durant finished with 23 points and became the first player in United States Olympic basketball history to score 400 career points.
Phoenix Suns’ sharpshooter Devin Booker added 20 points as the United States not only regained the lead in the third quarter, but cruised to a 97-78 victory over Australia to advance to Gold Medal Game. The only team in the tournament that has a team full roster of current NBA players has finally put it all together after a rough start and are peaking right time, as they have a chance to their fourth Gold Medal in a row.
Keys To Victory
France: Getting the United States in foul trouble
In the opening game of the tournament, Chicago Bulls’ guard Zach Lavine picked up two quick fouls and Durant spent the majority of the game in foul trouble before fouling out at the end. That allowed the French to take away some of the United States’ best scoring threats and kept them out of rhythm throughout France’s opening game victory.
What makes things more difficult for the United States is that France hits their free throws as well. They are shooting 78.8% from the line during the tournament and hit major ones against the U.S. in their opening game victory. So if Fournier, de Colo and Batum can get to the line on a regular basis on Saturday, France could be in line to take home gold.
United States: Allowing Kevin Durant to be Kevin Durant
As Australia learned on Thursday, if Kevin Durant gets in a zone offensively the game is pretty much over. There is not a player on the court for France that can contain Durant when he is dominating. If France has to spend too much time worrying about Durant, the multitude of options to score for the United States will be able to shine. Booker did it on Thursday and Boston Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum has done it throughout the Olympics.
The key for Durant is getting him going early and keeping him involved instead of waiting for him to explode. Getting him going should prevent the United States from getting off to a slow start like they did against Australia.
Yes, the French have beaten the United States in their last two meetings in international competition. But both circumstances were completely different. In 2019, the United States was not a full strength due to players not playing and had players who were playing while injured. In the opening game of the Olympics, four new members of Team USA were playing their first game. That does not take away the fact that France won.
I expect France to move the ball around the perimeter and create open shots for their aggressive group of guards. Ball movement was key in their victory last week. If the game gets close in the fourth quarter, Fournier will have the freedom to take the game over and find ways to create shots for himself or de Colo.
However, this is a completely different United States team than the one that France played a week ago. Head Coach Gregg Popovich has found the right rotation and players have settled into their roles now. That recipe has worked, as the team looks comfortable even when the score hasn’t been in their favor.
They have six players who average in double figures, which protects them against foul trouble. Normally the old saying is offense wins games and defensive wins championships, but in this case if the United States want to win the Gold Medal, they should be able to outscore France.
Team USA Wins Gold, 101-89.