It’s not getting any easier. Team USA escaped a late run by France to win on Sunday, 100–97, playing in their third-straight competitive game. The men’s basketball team has come away from group play undefeated, and will be the top seed entering the elimination rounds. Here’s what you need to know:
Play of the Game: Kyrie Irving is more aesthete than athlete; the way he sees the game and the ways in which he illustrates that perspective on the court are brilliant. He can stun an opponent with paralyzing crossovers and stepbacks, but sometimes you wish he would color just a bit outside his own lines and bring others into his world.
Irving sees the play before he sees the ball enter his hands: a clear alley-oop on a 2-on-1 fast break. He catches what was a bit of a short-armed throw from Carmelo Anthony like a diving wide receiver who has to retreat toward the line of scrimmage to keep the play alive. Kyrie is split at an awkward angle, and never quite establishes control, but the play must live on. From the outlet pass to the off-balance lob to the dunk, the play lasts no longer than five seconds. It was a beauty; the layered segments and degree of difficulty reminded me of my favorite alley-oop of all time. Irving finished the game with 12 assists. Team USA may not have the kind of pure point guard archetype that has shepherded the team in past international tournaments, but maybe having players with the talent and creativity to turn nothing into something is enough in these Olympics.
(The Real Play of the Game):
Always and forever. The NBC looped le dunk de la mort at least three times during the broadcast for no real reason other than the U.S.-France peg, and, outside of Rowdy Gaines’s verbal orgasms in the final 50 meters of literally any Team USA–favored swim final, I haven’t felt more patriotic during the Rio games.
Player of the Game: The mean has regressed. After shooting a combined 4-for-26 from the field in the first four games, Klay Thompson scorched France for 30 points on 9-for-16 shooting (including 7-for-13 from 3), only seven points away from the U.S.’s single-game Olympic scoring record held by Carmelo Anthony against Nigeria in 2012.
It was just one of those days for Klay. He made five 3-pointers in under four minutes during a stretch in the third quarter, the last of which was this beauty:
Thompson is already perilously close to the sideline when he’s fading away to catch the ball, but manages to stay in bounds to shoot a contested fadeaway with zero wasted motion. When we marvel at Thompson and mention him as the purest shooter in the game, it’s largely a product of how aligned his body always seems to be — straight up, shooting arm at a perfect, perpendicular angle upon release. This wasn’t just a show of Klay’s mastery of distance the way most of his heat checks are, it was a beautiful study in balance. Steph is smiling on a golf course somewhere.
Warriors’ Chemistry Watch:
Things are really great, you guys.
Concern Troll of the Game: This Team USA defense isn’t going to cut it in the quarterfinals, let alone a medal round. The team addressed Paul George’s ball-movement complaints (35 field goals on 32 assists against France), but that’s not exactly the team’s most glaring issue. The U.S. has had a tough time containing the opposition’s best playmakers for three consecutive games now, and letting them feast on the halfhearted defense of Melo, Irving, and Boogie Cousins is playing with fire. Draymond Green is out here recording near-trillions on the box score. Let him loose! The gold might depend on it.