RIO DE JANEIRO: Pushed to their limit in the past two games, NBA stars on the US Olympic team that assembled four weeks ago are working to come together before a third consecutive gold medal is snatched from their grasp.
Entering Sunday’s (Monday in Manila) final preliminary group match against France, the Americans are 87-1 since Mike Krzyzewski took over as coach and they have not lost in 10 years, since the 2006 World Championship semi-finals.
But Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic missed an open game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to give the Americans a 94-91 victory, their narrowest Olympic escape since settling for bronze in 2004 at Athens.
And that came after Australia stayed with the 2008 and 2012 champions into the final minutes before falling 98-88.
“These two teams played us great. We did some really good things in order to win, but hopefully we can get that learning down for France and the medal round,” Krzyzewski said.
“We do have more talent and we have to get our talent playing even much better as a team. They just haven’t had the experience of playing that long together. Hopefully these games will help us.”
With 10 Olympic debutantes, the US team was expected to have a learning curve. What was not anticipated was how tight they could be played even before the knockout stage opens with Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
“We’re the players we are today because of adversity,” US guard DeMar Derozan said. “We will go and learn from these two games and bounce back and be great the next game.”
They need to be. France offers such NBA standouts as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw and years of experience playing together.
“It’s great that we’re getting challenged,” US guard Paul George said. “Whatever the case is, we’ve got to do a better job. These teams are figuring out ways to execute down the stretch.”