After being tested against Australia, Team USA Basketball looked to move past Serbia to reach 4-0 in group play. The Americans were pushed to the limit once again.
For the first time in Olympic history, Team USA met Serbia in Men’s Basketball. Team USA Basketball was coming off of Wednesday’s close victory over Australia, and looked to move to 4-0 by defeating Serbia. Coach K stuck with the same starting lineup he used Wednesday, with Paul George once again starting in place of Klay Thompson.
DeMarcus Cousins got Team USA off to an electric start. He spun off a defender in transition and finished the play with an emphatic dunk, as Team USA started the game on a 9-0 run. Team USA’s starters looked more focused after narrowly beating Australia, as the Americans played lockdown defense early and forced turnovers.
Five minutes into the first half, Thompson entered the game and made his first shot, a corner three. Outside of his first shot, though, Thompson continued to struggle, as he has for much of Olympic play. DeAndre Jordan, also coming off the bench, made an early impact in the paint. Multiple times, Thompson and Draymond Green found Jordan for an easy dunk set up by a lob pass.
Team USA had some disciplinary struggles in the first quarter. Jordan drew a technical foul, and another was called on Team USA’s bench. However, Team USA looked comfortable in the first quarter, running their offense at will and getting out to a 27-15 lead after the first ten minutes.
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The tables turned in the second quarter. Serbia ran its offense more efficiently and successfully. After a tough first quarter, the Serbs settled down and cut Team USA’s lead to nine. They scored in flurries and garnered some momentum toward the end of the first half. Serbia outscored Team USA 26-23 in the second quarter, but Team USA still led 50-41 at the half. Despite the advantage, it was apparent that the Serbs had gotten into a rhythm. They would continue to challenge the Americans throughout the game.
During the first half, Team USA didn’t exactly run away on the scoreboard, but maintained the lead. Team USA was certainly the more talented team, but the Americans allowed the Serbs to hang around throughout the half.
In the third quarter, Team USA struggled on offense, and saw their lead cut to seven. NBC cameras captured Coach K telling his team, “we need movement” on offense. Halfway through the quarter, Serbia got within five, at 58-53, and again at 60-55. It was in stark contrast to when the Americans held an 18 point lead early in the first quarter.
The Americans were struggling to play as a unit, whereas Serbia had a certain cohesiveness, especially on offense. But Team USA tried to muster up some momentum when Jordan was the beneficiary of a breakaway dunk set up by Kyle Lowry. The two teams then traded buckets with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, as Team USA moved their lead up to nine. At the end of three quarters, Team USA led 72-62, and looked to close out Serbia.
In the fourth quarter, Team USA made a switch, as Coach K turned to a small ball unit. Both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins remained on the bench with eight minutes left in the game. Draymond Green entered the game at center, as Team USA looked for a spark.
Serbia was able to keep Team USA’s offense off balance by committing a series of frequent fouls, forcing the Americans to make free throws. Interestingly, Team USA didn’t stick with the small ball lineup for long, putting DeMarcus Cousins back into the game with six-and-a-half minutes left.
Team USA caught a break when one of Serbia’s most prominent players, Miroslav Raduljica, committed his fifth foul, and fouled out with about six minutes remaining.
At the three minute mark, Serbia trailed by just five. Team USA would need to battle once again to avoid their first loss in Olympic play since 2004. Serbia was on a roll offensively, and with under two minutes remaining, the Serbs cut the lead to three.
The game came down to the final possession, as Team USA led by three, but Serbia held possession with five seconds remaining. Serbia had an open look from three-point range, but the ball rimmed out as time expired. Team USA once again narrowly escaped with a victory to move to 4-0.
Needless to say, this game was closer than many people anticipated. Serbia played a brilliant game, and had a chance to force overtime. Team USA looked out of sync as their offense lacked movement and often relied on isolation. Wednesday’s game against Australia was close, but this game against Serbia actually could’ve been a loss.
In the end, though, Team USA emerged victorious, as they have in each game in Rio thus far.
Team USA will face France on Sunday.