• Team USA made things a little too close for comfort once again. The French, playing without Tony Parker, sliced and diced some bad defense and kept the game close for far longer than they should’ve against the tournament favorites. There were some rotation tweaks today that kickstarted Klay Thompson but the defensive cracks exposed by other teams are more evident than ever. The rest of Group A sorted itself out, so hop to it.

    Today’s Results

    Men’s

    USA 100 vs. France 97
    Australia 81 vs. Venezuela 56
    Serbia 94 vs. China 60

    Women’s

    USA 102 vs. China 65
    Serbia 95 vs. Senegal 88
    Spain 73 vs. Canada 60

    USA 100 vs. France 97

    The US squeaked out another win but looked much better against France than they did against Australia and Serbia. There were still plenty of concerning things to investigate so the work here is hardly done. On one hand the ball moved and there was a more definitive flow to the offense. On the other, the US won by just three against an opponent that’s looked listless in group play that rested its starting point guard. Regardless, the US are a perfect 5-0 in the group stage and will be the top seed in the medal round.

    Klay Thompson finally got cooking today and even hit some of his specialty quickfire triples. He finished with 30 points and shot 7-13 from behind the arc in a game that was a sight for sore eyes. Reinserting him into the starting lineup appears to have done the trick, though increased ball movement was probably the most important factor today. Klay was dipping and weaving around the court without the ball and earned a good amount of touches in the first quarter even if he didn’t heat up until later.

    On the topic of ball movement, the US was credited for 19 assists on 19 first half field goals (though some were fairly generous) and ended with 32 on 35; Kyrie Irving led the way with 12 dimes. His most memorable came on a beautiful alley-oop to Kevin Durant when Irving slipped and fell but still managed to fling the ball over a French defender from behind the arc. DeMar DeRozan had a nice first half, earning 7 free throw attempts before going through a spell of stupid turnovers in the second half and playing his way off the court. Kevin Durant was a perfect 6-6 from the floor for 17 points but hardly looked good today; his issues on the other end of the floor popped up in a big way.

    There were still lots of defensive struggles to diagnose and the starting lineup just isn’t working on that end of the floor. DeMarcus Cousins is getting hurt by a tough whistle but teams are attacking him and Kyrie Irving with relative ease; no matter what coverage the US throws out to support them it’s a constant weak spot. Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were both victimized by a handful of backdoor cuts where they just stopped paying attention and allowed an easy look at the rim. The lack of defensive awareness in the current starting five is remarkable; Klay Thompson looks like the lone player who can anticipate what’s coming next and is assuredly the only one who won’t just dip under a perimeter screen.

    The bench unit, however, comes in with much more tenacity and smarts on the defensive end. DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Lowry, DeRozan, Jimmy Butler and Paul George looked like a much more cohesive unit and really pulled away against France’s bench. One game Plus/Minus is a silly tool to use for evaluation, but this isn’t exactly a coincidence: Jordan +12, Butler +7, Lowry +6. Amongst the starters? Durant +2, Klay +1, Kyrie -3, Melo -3, Cousins -5.

    If they’re serious about shoring up the defense, Jimmy Butler needs to play more than 6:26. Kyle Lowry needs to play more than 12:38. Draymond Green needs to play more than 6:12. This is a starting group that couldn’t contain Nando De Colo and Thomas Heurtel. If France could shoot the three it’d be a very different story. If the US doesn’t change anything and runs into a hot shooting team? Well, it doesn’t seem like a good proposition.

    France rested Tony Parker for the medal round today but almost pulled it off without him. They got excellent games from their guards; De Colo (#12) scored 18 points on 8-13 shooting in just 19 minutes while Heurtel (#4) scored 18 of his own on 8-14, hitting a number of big jumpers and crafty floaters to lead a late French surge. The Teenage Mutant Ninja was great today, picking up 8 boards and 9 assists in his extra run. France put some sneaky depth on display after their usual bench units struggled in the first few games. Nic Batum (14 points) took on more of the scoring burden tonight while Antoine ‘Ronnie James’ Diot (#6) scored 8 points, though three came on a meaningless buzzer beater to end the game.

    France couldn’t follow the blueprint laid by others before them who dragged Cousins and Jordan into high pick and roll situations. Rudy Gobert simply isn’t effective at drawing opposing bigs out of the paint and the offense didn’t get too much rhythm going until Joffrey Lauvergne (12 points on 6-10) stepped in a started to hit some midrange shots. France will be in the medal round alongside the US, though neither knows who they’ll be playing just yet.

    Top Performers

    USA France
    Points Thompson 30
    Durant 17
    Irving / Anthony 10
    De Colo / Heurtel 18
    Batum 14
    Lauvergne 12
    Rebounds Durant 6
    Cousins 5
    Irving / Anthony 4
    Heurtel 8
    Gobert / Lauvergne 5
    De Colo 4
    Assists Irving 12
    Anthony 5
    Durant 4
    Heurtel 9
    Diaw 7
    De Colo 5

    Stray Thoughts:

    • Draymond needs to play; he’s a cure for so many issues- screening, passing, defense
    • Lauvergne could be a tough cover for DAJ; can hit from mid-range and Jordan won’t leave the paint
    • Lowry/DDR/PG/Butler/DAJ unit does such an improved job of passing the ball
    • US got bailed out on a few stupid fouls on threes
    • Diaw loves dishing to Gobert; 4/5 PnR would be lethal if Gobert had a better offensive game
    • Lowry visibly frustrated when officials won’t give him the ball to inbound quickly; love his sense of urgency
    • Boogie finished strong; just too big and strong for France to handle down low
    • KD looked bad again, ball seemed to stop in his hands, a stupid turnover with 2 minutes left that led to a Heurtel 3
    • Melo with 2 big triples in the 4th on an otherwise quiet scoring day
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