It’s an Olympic gold medal match 20 years in the making as reigning champions USA take on Serbia in the finals of men’s basketball in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The two teams traversed very different paths to get here but it is immaterial now. USA took on all comers and looked invincible in their first two games before being tested in their next three games of the group stage against Australia, Serbia, and France.
In the knockout stages, USA took on teams with unbelievable chemistry because of the time they’ve spent competing as a unit: Manu Ginobili’s Argentina and Pau Gasol’s Spain. The Americans had no problem eliminating Argentina but they were met with some resistance against the team they faced in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals.
Ultimately, the superior talent and athleticism of the USA was too much for their older foes to overcome.
Serbia, on the other end, travelled a longer route. After not making it to the Olympics through the 2015 Eurobasket competitions, they hosted and won one of the three 2016 FIBA OQTs. They lost their opening three games in Rio de Janeiro and only defeated China and Venezuela, teams that were eliminated first, in the group stage.
As the number 4 team in Group A, they defeated first-placed Croatia but few saw it as an upset. The real test for Serbia was Australia; the team that many picked to give USA a run for its money.
However, contrary to most projections, Serbia obliterated Australia. They decided that the Boomers’ shooting was suspect so they packed the middle and dared the men in yellow in green to shoot from the outside.
It was a brilliant strategy from the coaches of Serbia perfectly executed by the men on the floor.
In the finals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, these two teams also met and the result was an easy win for USA. The Americans led 35-21 in the first quarter and never looked back as they won 129-92. It was an unbelievable score for a 40-minute game but it was made possible by their 15 made three-point shots on 30 tries.
This time, however, it should be much closer. The statistics are not that far from each other but still favor USA. The Americans have a 44-36 edge in rebounds per game which leads to a 19-10 lead in second chance points but aside from that, it’s pretty much even.
Back in 1996, Team USA, represented by legends such as Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Scottie Pippen defeated Yugoslavia with Vlade Divac and Predrag Danilovic in the gold medal match of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
This would prove to be the last time Yugoslavia medalled in Olympic basketball competitions as it broke up into several smaller countries including Serbia.
After two decades, Divac finds his team once again facing USA. But instead of being a player, he’s now the team manager. Instead of Yugoslavia, he now represents Serbia.
One thing remains the same though. His side still faces the daunting task of defeating the USA.
The Americans will surely rely on the scoring prowess of Kevin Durant (17.9 ppg), Carmelo Anthony (12.9 ppg), and Kyrie Irving (12.4 ppg). The biggest question for USA is if their two centers DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan can hold the fort for them.
In their semifinals game against Spain, Jordan answered this with a resounding yes. However, it still remains to be seen if he’ll respond the same way if dragged to deep waters with a prize this precious.
Serbia will still rely on Miroslav Raduljica (15.9 ppg) and Milos Teodosic (12.6 ppg). The x-factor for the underdogs is Nikola Jokic who had his best performance of the Olympics against USA in the group stage.
The key for Serbia is defense. They need to make the game as ugly as possible and attempt to steal the game in the fourth quarter. They won’t be able to do what they accomplished against Australia because USA’s bench is infinitely better.
However, it’s really tough to see anyone beating USA in these competitions. Although they looked shaky at times, they’ve managed to pull through each and every time.
USA’s women’s team has already won the gold. It’s up to the men now to make it a double celebration.
The USA-Serbia gold medal match will be shown LIVE on TV5 and Rio Premium ch. 99 (SD) and 199 (HD) on Monday at 2:45AM.
MORE RIO OLYMPICS CONTENT:
Catch the full coverage of the Olympic Games on digital at www.SPORTS5.ph; mobile via the SmartLife app and on TV5 & Aksyon TV |Hyper SD and HD plus RIO 2016 Channel 96 and RIO 2016 Premium (Pay-per-view) Channel 99 sd/ 199HD. The RIO 2016 coverage is presented by PLDT Home Fibr and Smart. LABAN PILIPINAS! PUSO!