The United States men’s basketball team entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as the heavy favorite and the red, white and blue didn’t disappoint in the gold medal game, dismantling Serbia 96-66 on Sunday afternoon. The victory gave the U.S. its third straight gold medal and 15th in 18 Olympics overall.
USA finished the competition 8-0, and the win marked the U.S.’s 25th straight win in Olympic competition. The Americans have now won 53 straight contests during major competitions, according to USA Basketball. The U.S.’s last Olympic loss came in 2004 when they fell to Spain in the semifinals.
“This team kept getting better and even those three games in pool play,” coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached his last game with Team USA. “We had not played that type of game against that type of level. We said it was a learning experience and our guys did learn. We put it to good practice. We kept getting better even though it didn’t necessarily reflect in the differential in the score but we were getting better and more knowledgeable. That’s where I commend the leadership of our veterans for keeping us on course for that.”
Kevin Durant led the way for the U.S. with 30 points, along with four assists, three rebounds and two steals. He made 10-of-19 shots from the field, including 5-of-11 from beyond the arc, and was 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. Durant played the entire first half, producing 24 points as he made 9-of-his-first-14 shots.
Marc Stein of ESPN believes the U.S. saved its best game for last. The Americans finished the tournament with a plus-22.5 margin of victory despite winning three of the eight games by a combined 12 points — Serbia (3), France (3) and Spain (6).
USA got off to a rocky start as they had two turnovers and missed two three-pointers in their first four offensive possessions, before DeAndre Jordan got the Americans on the board with a putback off a Carmelo Anthony triple attempt with 8:41 left in the opening quarter. From there, there were four ties and five lead changes. Trailing 14-11 with 3:20 left in the frame, the USA closed with a 7-1 stretch that included a three from Durant, and USA headed into the second period with a 19-15 advantage.
Durant took over in the second quarter, outscoring Serbia 18-14 by himself, as the U.S. took a 52-29 halftime lead. DeMarcus Cousins added 11 points and 12 rebounds at halftime. Cousins, who came off the bench, finished the game with 13 points and 15 rebounds in 17 minutes. Cousins was just 3-of-5 from the field but he sunk seven-of-his-nine free throws. Klay Thompson was the only other American in double-figures with 12 points, though all 12 U.S. players did tally at least two points.
Leading 57-33 midway through the third, the U.S. went on a 16-6 run to take a 73-39 lead with 2:24 left in the quarter. USA held Serbia to 14 points in the third quarter as they pushed their lead to 79-43 heading into the fourth. Early in the fourth, the Americans extended the lead to 41 before taking their foot off the throttle, and letting the reserves finish the game.
Serbia (4-4) won the fourth quarter 23-17.
Former Phoenix Suns’ first round draft pick Nemanja Nedovic led the way for Serbia with 14 points as he connected on 6-of-10 shots from the field. Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2011 second round draft pick Milan Macvan added 11 points.
The key for the U.S. was keeping Denver Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic, Milos Teodosic, and former NBA big man Miroslav Raduljica in check. The last time the two squads met (a 94-91 U.S. victory), those three combined for 61 points. The U.S. held the trio to just 22 points, on 10-of-22 shooting. Bogdan Bogdanovic, 2014 first round draft pick of the Phoenix Suns, was only 2-of-12 from the field and 0-of-7 from beyond the arc as he finished with seven points.
The U.S. shot 44.2 percent from the field and held Serbia to 38.2 percent shooting, including 4-of-24 from the three-point line. The Americans also controlled the boards (54-33) and won the turnover battle (19-16).
The U.S. was the only team to average 100 points a game in the tournament. Durant led four players in double-figures with 19.4 points a game. Carmelo Anthony (12.1 ppg), Kyrie Irving (11.4) and Paul George (11.3) also tallied double figures. DeAndre Jordan led the team in rebounding (6.1) and field goal percentage (74 percent) while Durant made 58 percent of his three-point attempts and Irving had 39 assists.
Speaking of Irving, he and Thompson became two of the nine players who can boast of winning an Olympic Games gold medal, a FIBA World Championship, and an NBA Championship.
Krzysewski, who became the national coach in 2006, is the first coach in the history of international basketball to win back-to-back Olympic and FIBA World Cup titles — he finishes is career with a 88-1 record.
Following the game, Anthony announced his retirement from International competition.
“For me, it was more about kind of just the journey that it took to get to this point for me as an individual,” Anthony said. “But as a team, coming together a couple of weeks ago last month in (Las) Vegas and really decide to commit our time, sacrifice ourselves, our families, our games for one another, knowing who we were playing alongside, realizing what was at stake, what we wanted to accomplish. But, most importantly for me to be here since, I mean, ’04, and then ’06 when they really started to have a culture, USA Basketball started to have a culture. And, to be alongside Coach K – he’s sacrificed so much of his time, his family, coming from a collegiate level, instilling his trust into NBA players and being the face of USA Basketball. I just want to say thanks to that. I appreciate that.”
Anthony is the most decorated basketball player in USA Basketball history with three gold medals to go along with a bronze medal. He is also the all-time leading scorer in men’s U.S. Olympic play with 336 points, as well as the program’s all-time leading rebounder.
[Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo]