The United States men’s basketball team guns for a third consecutive gold medal when it faces a challenging Serbia squad for the 2016 Rio Games championship Sunday afternoon at Carioca Arena in Brazil.
But even if Team USA manages to prevail, it will be a bittersweet victory as head coach Mike Krzyzewski enters his last game at the helm of the program he completely overhauled and has led to two straight golds. The Duke coach, though, isn’t focused on that.
“All of us need to be in this moment – not ‘this is my last time’ or ‘the third gold medal for Carmelo [Anthony],'” Krzyzewski said to USA Today. “It’s this team and that’s what we’re trying to do: be in this moment with this team.
“They’re not going to play because it’s my last time being the Olympic coach. I have to coach them like it’s my first time, and that’s the way we’re going to do it.”
Indeed, maintaining focus will be necessary both due to Serbia’s loaded and talented roster and the U.S.’s propensity to start off slow even though its the only undefeated team in Rio and just beat rival Spain.
Behind guard Klay Thompson’s 22 points and center DeAndre Jordan’s 16 rebounds and four blocks, the U.S. managed to keep Spain at bay and collected an 82-76 semifinal victory Friday.
The stats and final score suggest Team USA walked away largely unscathed, but Spain was a formidable opponent and always remained within striking distance. The U.S held a 53-41 rebounding advantage and put up 25 second chance points, while holding Spain to 39 percent shooting, and still only walked away with a six-point win.
“Their last three games they’ve been playing at a very high level. They are such a high-powered offensive team because of the skill set of all the players that they have,” assistant coach Tom Thibodeau told International Business Times after the game against Spain, “they can shoot, they can break you down on the dribble. And then Pau [Gasol] and Nico [Mirotic] are so unique its like having five guards on the floor. So it puts enormous pressure on your defense at all times and if you don’t make multiple effort and you don’t challenge their shots and you don’t finish your defense you’re in trouble. So we were concerned even down the stretch, a 10-point lead is not safe on against those guys. And they play very well together.”
Now the U.S. turns to a Serbian squad that nearly beat it in pool play. Point guard Kyrie Irving led the U.S. with 15 points and five assists and Jordan added 13 points down low, but the U.S. coughed up an early 18-point lead and Serbia’s Nikola Jokic fired off 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. The U.S. walked away with a 94-91 victory, but shot only 35 from three.
Start Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com
Betting Odds: USA -16
Over/Under: 181 points
Prediction: USA over Serbia, 102-82
Reporting from Bobby Ilich in Rio de Janeiro and Greg Price in New York City.