This morning the US National Men’s Basketball team aims to annex its 15th Olympic gold medal against tough Serbia. The star studded American squad has been undefeated so far after seven games and looks unstoppable in Rio. But even as the NBA standouts blew out China (119-62), Venezuela (113-69) and Argentina (105-78), they didn’t have it easy against Australia (98-88), Serbia (94-91), France (100-97) and Spain (82-76). Against the Aussies at one point, they even trailed by eight points.
Serbia is only one of three other nations with a gold medal in Olympic basketball. Russia has two and Argentina one. The Serbs, carrying the banner for Yugoslavia, won the gold in Moscow during the 1980 Olympics, which was boycotted by the United States. They hope to stage the colossal upset today against the USA and covet a second gold in Olympic basketball.
But of course, defeating the Americans is a tall order to say the least. They lead the tournament in scoring with an average of 101.6 points per game (PPG). Serbia is fourth with 85.6 PPG. But the many time European champions did better on defense, giving up just 75.8 PPG compared to the USA’s 80.1 PPG. The Serbs also shoot a little better with a 48% field goal percentage as opposed to USA’s 47.6%, even as the Americans proved to be the best in three-point shooting field goal with 37.6%. One area that the USA has a significant edge over Serbia is in rebounding, where it leads the tournament with 44.3 boards per game. Serbia is just eighth, with 36.4. The Americans are also second best in assists with 24 per game, and steals with 8.3 per game. Surprisingly, the USA is also the team with the least turnovers per game, with only an 11.1 average. The Serbs have 13.9 errors per game.
New Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant leads team USA in soring with 17.9 PPG, followed by Carmelo Anthony (12.9 PPG) and Kyrie Irving (12.4 PPG). Anthony is the USA’s all-time leading scorer in the Olympic games. Los Angeles Clippers 6’11” powerhouse DeAndre Jordan rules the boards for the USA with 6.3 rebounds per game (RPG), followed by Durant (5.3 RPG) and Anthony (5.0 RPG), while Irving is best in assists (5.0 APG), followed by Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry (3.6 APG). Golden States’ Klay Thompson, Indiana Pacers’ Paul George, Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins and Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler are the other top performers for the USA.
The Serbs are surely no pushovers and the Americans know that. In their first encounter in Rio, Serbia simply ran out of time in trying to overtake the Americans’ lead. CSKA Moscow ace guard Milos Teodosic is the team’s recognized leader. He norms 12.6 PPG and 5.7 APG, with two triples per game. And he specializes in making the big shots when it counts. Big man Miroslav Riduljica of Emporio Armani Italian team leads the team with 15.9 PPG, followed by 6’6” forward Bogdan Bognadovic with 13 PPG. Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic leads in rebounding with 6.3 RPG.
The key for Serbia is not to allow the Americans to get their rhythm. Team USA is a heavily talented team that thrives on one-on-one and open court games. The Serbs cannot give them the space they need. They must slow down the tempo and force a more deliberate and low scoring pace. Clearly, defense is the key for a Serbia victory. Also, the Serbs cannot afford to make too many turnovers because the Americans are likely to score in transition off those miscues. Serbia has to make smart shot selections and make the open looks. They need to move the ball around a lot swiftly and force the Americans to play hard on defense.
The USA is still likely to win another Olympic gold but we can expect Serbia to be giving the Americans a run for their money.