Mike Taylor, Head Coach of the Polish National Team is back to provide his analysis and insight to preview the Olympic semi-final games in Tokyo.
The Olympic basketball knock-out stages started this week with four exciting quarterfinal games that saw Slovenia top Germany 94-70, USA beat Spain 95-81, France edge Italy 84-75 and Australia outplay Argentina 97-59 setting up two gripping Semifinal match-ups Slovenia vs France and USA vs Australia.
SLOVENIA vs FRANCE
Slovenia continued their remarkable run with a 94-70 victory over hard-playing Germany in the quarterfinals at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. Luka Doncic remained perfect at 17-0 with the Slovenian National Team as he scored 20 points grabbed 8 boards and handed out 11 assists. Zoran Dagic was outstanding with a game high 27 points 6 rebounds 4 assists hitting 11 of 13 shots including 5 of 7 from three. Center Mike Tobey finished with a 13 point 11 rebound double double in the win. Slovenia out- rebounded Germany 40-28, outscored Germany in the paint 38-22 and had a 17-7 advantage in fast break points. As a team, the hot-shooting Slovenians hit 54% from floor 43% (15 for 35) from three 85% from the foul line. The game got chippy in the second half as German guard Maodo Lo and Slovenia’s Jaka Blazic bumped heads near mid-court forcing both players from the floor for treatment of minor cuts. Several technical fouls were called in the second half as players competed and challenged each other. With so much talking directed towards them, officials worked to take control of the game.
Slovenia broke the game open late finally pulling away from the persistent German team. The quarterfinal win was the second victory for Slovenia where the team stepped up to show it is more than a one-man show. France held off a late Italy rally to take an 84-75 quarterfinal win and advance into the Semi-finals.
A 21-12 3rd quarter gave Head Coach Vincent Collet and his team 64-54 heading into the fourth quarter but Italy fought back tying the score at 73-73 with 2:35 to play on a big three by Danilo Gallinari. A Thomas Heurtel three with 2:18 to play gave France a lead they would never relinquish and Rudy Gobert scored 6 of France’s final 8 points to seal the game down the stretch. Gobert finished with a team best 22 points 9 rebounds while Evan Fournier continued his outstanding play with 21 points 4 assists and Nicolas Batum added 15 points 14 boards in the win.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
France’s game plan against Doncic will be a key to the game and what Head Coach Vincent Collet decides to do defensively will be very interesting. Does France follow Spain and double Doncic all game to make other players beat them? Doncic has shown he can win a game by himself but also trust his teammates if an opponent tries to take him away. With game plans to study all summer, France has seen how other National teams have tried yet Doncic still stands at 17-0. A secondary part of defending Doncic is how well France covers the three-point line.
PATHWAY TO THE MEDAL PLATFORM:
Play through Doncic and let him raise the level of the entire team. Luka has shown the ability to score (48 points against Argentina) or trust his teammates (beating Spain double teams and box and 1 by making the right pass). Slovenia worked through adversity in their last two games — early Doncic foul trouble against Spain and losing control of their emotions in the quarterfinal win over Germany. They can take confidence that they can win in different ways and overcome challenging situations. Their own emotional discipline is a key in the semifinal matchup against Spain and it all starts with Doncic staying focused. Already established as a fantastic run, a good team performance against France sends Slovenia towards team of destiny and directs Doncic towards legendary status.
Playing with great confidence, the French are a balanced and experienced team. Evan Fournier has been in top form all tournament hunting shots and providing a three-point threat. France point guards Nando De Colo and Thomas Heurtel must assert themselves in the game against Slovenia. Rudy Gobert must dominate the paint for France and impact the team defense especially helping limit Doncic. France started the Tokyo Olympics strong with a big win over Team USA in their opener. They have played well and been consistent since. In search of their 3rd Olympic Medal and first since silver in 2000 summer Olympics in Australia, France needs to find a way to stop Doncic and the special Slovenia run.
PREDICTION: France outlasts Slovenia to advance to the Gold Medal game
USA vs AUSTRALIA
USA topped Spain in an early Quarterfinal showdown between two medal favorites. Kevin Durant scored 29 points on 4 of 7 three-point shooting, while Jayson Tatum added 13 points hitting 3 of 5 threes off the bench. Team USA totaled 28 assists and shot 40.6% from three (13 for 32) in the win. Team USA guards Jrue Holiday (12pts 5reb 2ast), Damian Lillard (11pts 4reb 4ast) and Zach LaVine (10pts 2ast) all reached double figures. Team USA defensive effort was much improved snuffing Spain’s ball- movement to 12 assists as a team. Both Spanish point guards, Ricky Rubio (38 points) and Sergio Rodriguez (16 points off the bench), scored well individually but both Gasol brothers went scoreless in limited minutes and key scorers like Sergio Lull (6 points 2 for 6) and Rudy Fernandez (0 points in 25 minutes) struggled on the evening. After trailing 17-10 early in the game, a 29-12 run saw Spain charge to a 10-point second quarter lead by attacking team USA in the paint punishing switches with offensive rebounds and post touches to capitalize on size advantages against USA guards down low. With 3:25 left in the first half and Spain up 39-29, Team USA finished the first half strong with a 14-4 run of their own to tie the score at 43 apiece at the half. Team USA went on a 15-4 run to start the second half seizing control of the game and Coach Popovich and his team never looked back. Dating back to 2004, team USA has eliminated Spain in five consecutive Olympics: 2004 Quarterfinals, 2008 and 2012 finals, 2016 semi’s and this quarterfinal.
Meanwhile, Australia cruised to a 97-59 win over Argentina. Patty Mills top-scored with 18 points 4 assists sinking 3 of 4 threes followed by Jock Landale and Matisse Thybulle with 12 points apiece while Joe Ingles added 11 points 4 rebounds 7 assists for the Boomers. Nick Kay’s energy and effort produced a 10 point 10 rebound double double which is important to off-set the loss of Aaron Baynes. Head Coach Brian Goojian’s team totaled an impressive 33 assists, outrebounded Argentina 44-36 and defended them into 33% floor shooting including 8 of 30 from three (26%). Argentina could not find their rhythm as a team and totaled only 13 assists and 17 turnovers against Australia. With the result inevitable and knowing it could be the end for the 41-year old center, Head Coach Sergio Hernandez subbed out legendary big man Luis Scola late in the game creating a moment of respect which saw both teams salute Scola with a standing ovation in respect for his fantastic National Team career.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
A focused Team USA is on alert after losing to Australia 91-82 July 12th in Las Vegas during preparation for both teams. In that exhibition, Team USA played without Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker. Holiday in particular can factor into the semi-final rematch as an excellent defender against Boomer’s leader Patty Mills. The loss also helps Head Coach Gregg Popovich and staff get the attention of the players. Team USA will be ready for the Aussie’s in Tokyo.
PATHWAY TO THE MEDAL PLATFORM:
Scoring forwards Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum make the difference against a less experienced Australia front line playing without Aaron Baynes. Guards Zach LaVine and Jrue Holiday continue their excellent Olympic play. Team USA defends, controls the defensive boards and matches the Australian physicality. High percentage three-point shooting and transition baskets make the game easier and staying together in the adversity of Australian runs can be key.
Tough and together, Australia expects to beat team USA and showed they can do it after the preparation win in Las Vegas. Patty Mills must establish himself as a primary scorer and Joe Ingles must impact the game as a secondary play-maker. Aussie perimeter defenders Dante Exum, Matthew Delavedova and Matisse Thybulle will work to put the clamps on top Team USA guards and when big men Nick Kay and Jock Landale are productive, the Boomers will be in business.
PREDICTION: USA tops Australia and wins their way into the Gold Medal game
Photographs courtesy of FIBA.basketball