Early Thursday morning, Team USA used a strong third quarter led by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker to defeat Australia 97-78 and advance to the gold medal game.
The game wasn’t pretty to start. Team USA went into halftime trailing 45-42 after struggling to shoot from the three-point line, making just two of 16 attempts. Despite making the right plays, Australia managed to create a 15-point lead over Team USA before Durant decided to take over the game.
Heading into the third quarter, Team USA’s defense picked up. Not only did Jrue Holiday, Booker, and the other players start picking up Patty Mills at half court, but they also prevented several driving lanes and cutting action to occur. One thing that head coach Gregg Popovich preaches to his teams is that good defense leads to better offense. Once Team USA began to elevate their play on the defensive end, it enabled them to move fast in transition and get easy layups. Once that happened, there was no stopping Team USA as they pulled away despite some early struggles.
Zach LaVine’s Play
Chicago Bulls’ management went all out in free agency over the past week with the hopes of pleasing Zach LaVine and proving to him that they are looking to win. This only seemed to motivate LaVine even more. Against Australia, LaVine was fantastic. While he wasn’t scoring the ball as much, he made his mark as a playmaker and being active on the defensive end. Take a look at this possession for an example:
It has been exciting to watch LaVine these Olympics as he has taken a major step forward this year. One of the main takeaways from his performance in the Olympics has been an increased effort on the defensive end. Coach Popovich has utilized LaVine and Holiday as the primary defenders against several opponents’ guards. In those games, the Bulls’ guard was tasked with guarding Tomas Satoransky, Ricky Rubio, and Patty Mills on multiple occasions. His efforts also haven’t gone unnoticed, as Durant even acknowledged LaVine in a postgame interview.
There’s an argument to be made that Durant is currently the best player in the world. For him to shout out LaVine means a lot. If LaVine can carry this level of play into next season, he can elevate the Bulls to contention.
Gold Medal Game Preview
Team USA will take on France in the Gold Medal Match tonight at 9 PM Central. Despite being the top-ranked team in the world, USA has struggled against France of late. France defeated the Americans 83-76 in preliminary play, which snapped Team USA’s 25-game winning streak.
One major issue for Gregg Popovich is the lack of size on his roster. Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green have occupied the center position for the last few games, but that may be an issue against France. Reigning defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert plays for France, so it will be imperative for Team USA to crash the glass and limit second-chance opportunities.
The gold medal game is a big opportunity for Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, and Devin Booker to step up. Each player has shown flashes of high-quality play, but their output hasn’t been consistent. If Team USA wants to beat France, Durant will need some help. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Javale McGee see the floor plenty in this game as his size will help the Americans match up better against Gobert and France.
Regardless of the result, expect this game to be exciting with two powerhouse countries going at it.