The United States men’s basketball closed out the Group A preliminary games on Sunday with a 100-97 win over France. Despite resting Tony Parker, France led a convincing comeback against Team USA in the second half from the dual threat of Nando de Colo and Thomas Huertal after the U.S. held a double digit lead early in the third. The failure to close out games has been an increasingly concerning weakness for Team USA in the final few games of group play.
In the first half, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson carried the US. Durant was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field for nine points in the first quarter. And after shooting just 15 percent to start the the first four games of group play, Klay Thompson finally got going against France, 13 first-half points on 50 percent shooting on his way to a team high 30 points.
The real story in the game was the continued shaky defense for Team USA, who failed to contain France and their gaurds. Nando de Colo, the Euroleague’s 2015-16 MVP, led France with 14 of the team’s 46 point points. In the second half, a strong performance from Thomas Huertal - 18 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds - led a comeback with de Colo and brought the game to as close as a three point differential in the fourth. De Colo finished with 18 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds.
Thompson continued his resurgence in the second half, 7-of-13 on three-pointers, for 30 points that almost tripled his points-scored through the first four games of group play. His three-point attack bought the team the lead that they needed to withstand France’s late run. After the game, he emphasized the US’s need to trust each other late, a lack of ball movement, and the failure to help on defense which has led to these these fourth quarter runs that have plagued the US in the past few games.
Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving had a comparatively quiet game, and struggled struggled to contain France on the perimeter, but still closed out the game for Team USA. With the lead within five late in the fourth, Kyrie turned an outlet pass into a quick assist to Durant for an open fastbreak dunk. Later, a drive and in-and-out layup was finished by DeMarcus Cousins at the rim to to put the lead back to 10. Irving had 10 points, a game-high 12 assists with no turnovers. His 12 assists also tied an Olympic record.
Despite another close finish, Team USA finishes undefeated in Group A preliminary games and will be the top seed for the quarterfinals. They will face the fourth place team out of Group B on Wednesday. The opponent will be determined following the finals games of group play on Monday. Headed into the first round of knock-out games, however, the U.S. certainly does not look invincible. And now more than ever, the ability to play together late will be key to moving forward to the medal matches.