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US, France gold medal showdown set

By Mark Angelo Mañez, Jostle Doen Pilayre and Avery Clyde Dimasuhid

Repeat or revenge.

Team USA arranged its quest for its fourth straight Olympic gold medal as they faced once more prelims conqueror France in the winner-take-all final at the Saitama Super Arena on Saturday.

PHOTO: Today News Post

Both teams endured different oppositions in setting up its repeat of the faceoff, albeit in contrasting results.

The Americans walked off to their first finals appearance with coach Gregg Popovich and secured a 98-79 whipping over Australia.



Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday once again proved to be the Boomers' biggest thorn on their sides as the Americans used a morale-deflating 48-point mid game avalanche to break the game wide open after being down by as many as 15 points early on. They combined for 34 points, with Chicago Bull Zach LaVine and Milwaukee Buck Khris Middleton also providing ample offensive firepower with their 20 and 11 markers of their own respectively.

Durant also made history by being the first American to surpass the 400-point barrier in his entire Olympic career. He also collected 9 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.

“We knew Australia would come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early, see how we respond,” said the Brooklyn Nets’ Durant.

“We stuck with it, stuck with our principles, made a couple of switches on defence, and we were able to get some momentum going into the (second) half. Guys came out with that intensity, making shots as well.

“We’ve been down 15 in games before and came back,” he added. “It don’t matter what level it was at, or where it’s at. A lot of guys have been in that position before. We know how to handle ourselves.”

Australia started waxing hot right from tipoff as they built an early six point cushion after 10 minutes. It then grew to 15, 41-26 as they continued pouncing the Americans with their outside shooting.

Things changed as Team USA started dropping their long range bombs after a near-frozen 2-for-13 in the first 20 minutes. They finished the game, connecting 9 out of their 28 attempts from deep.

Patty Mills stood tough for Australia as he chipped in 15 points for the Boomers, who have yet to win their first Olympic medal of any color. Dante Exum and Jock Londale also pitched in double-figures, picking up 14 and 11 respectively.

“A medal’s still what we came here to do, even though it’s not going to be gold or silver,” said their disappointed Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle.

“Bronze is going to be the first ever for Australia so that’s still a really big deal for us and we still have a lot to fight for.”

Meanwhile, Nicolas Batum sealed the nail biter in the fourth against Slovenia with a game-winning clutch block, 90-89, with the French formally booking their date with the Americans in the gold medal match after 21 years.

PHOTO: FIBA

LA Clippers forward Batum came from nowhere and spoiled the Slovenian guard Klemen Plepric's attempt to stamp a stainless cinderella run with a layup, etching a hard-fought win for France over the Olympic debutant Slovenians. 

“We just had to fight to the last second, that’s who we are as a team,” said their Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. “The US is the best team in the tournament, we just need to get ready and be up for the challenge.” 



Nando de Colo steered the Les Blues with a game-best 25 points, with Boston Celtics’ Evan Fournier adding 23, and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert scoring nine points and 16 rebounds. 

Previously, the French nationals shattered Team USA's 25-game Olympic winning streak with an 83-76 beating in the preliminaries—marking the United States' first Olympic loss since 2004. 

Despite Slovenia's spirited fightback to force another nailbiter on the crucial finale, the seventh-ranked FIBA French squad responded with gritty plays throughout. 

But it was Batum's game-saving block on Prepilic with one second remaining that sealed the deal. 

Earlier, the Vincent Collet-coached France, who held ground amidst multiple seesaw quarters, broke free in the third canto behind smooth team plays and de Colo's shooting—storming in the fourth with a 10-point lead. 



On the flip side, Luka Doncic led the Slovenian charge during the semifinal thriller by erasing a 10-point deficit in the last 13 minutes. 

But their charge wasn't quite enough to pierce the French foes as their offense, especially the six-foot-eight Batum's defensive that proved too good for the debutants. 

Doncic made history by tallying the third triple-double in Olympic books with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists for Slovenia—but just not the history he wanted most. 

Tobey also led Slovenia with 23 points, while Prepelic notched 17.