Team USA's run to the gold-medal game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been nothing short of bumpy, to say the least.
Unlike its gold medal-winning counterparts on the 2016 team, this year's squad, which is coming off a shortened 72-game NBA season that followed last year's COVID-19 bubble, stumbled through the exhibitions and even through group play. Losses to Nigeria and Australia before leaving for Tokyo raised questions about whether this would be the first U.S. squad not to bring home a gold medal since the infamous 2004 team in Athens.
Team USA rebounded to beat Argentina and Spain in the final two exhibition games, but it lost its first game of pool play to France, snapping a 25-game Olympic winning streak dating back to the 2008 Games. The Americans followed that with a pair of blowout wins over Iran and Czech Republic before dispatching Spain and Australia in the knockout round to reach the final for a rematch with France.
The French, meanwhile, dropped all three exhibition games prior to arriving in Tokyo, largely with a short-handed roster because of the ongoing NBA playoffs. They've won every Olympic game in Japan, though, with a narrow 90-89 win over Luka Doncic and Slovenia boosting them into the gold-medal match.
United States vs. France, Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET
How to Watch: NBC, Peacock, NBCOlympics.com
Slovenia vs. Australia, Sat. Aug. 7, 7 a.m. ET
How to Watch: NBC, Peacock, NBCOlympics.com
United States vs. France
As it always is, on paper, the United States team brings significantly more talent into Friday's final than France does. The Americans have been the best shooting team in the tournament—both from the field and at the three-point line—but have struggled for long periods on the defensive end.
After failing to adjust to FIBA's more physical style of play and officiating early on, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant has been dominant at the offensive end, averaging 19.0 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting nearly 54 percent from the field. Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday, both playing in their first Olympics, have been terrific from behind the arc, each shooting better than 42 percent.
France, which boasts NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and newly minted New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier, has significantly less NBA talent on the roster, but it has much more cohesion, with most of these players being on the same France national team for multiple years.
In the group-stage matchup that France ultimately won 83-76, Team USA struggled mightily on the offensive end of the floor, shooting just 36 percent. The trio of Durant, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot just 12-of-35 from the field.
Should the Americans have another awful shooting performance like that one, France could steal away the gold medal, as Argentina did in 2004. But don't bet on it. Team USA's offensive cohesion has improved dramatically since then, and Durant, Tatum and Holiday have finally adjusted to the rough-and-tumble FIBA style of play.
Prediction: United States 95, France 83
Slovenia vs. Australia
Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic nearly led Slovenia to the gold-medal game in the national team's first-ever Olympic appearance, but France's Nicolas Batum blocked a last-second layup attempt by Slovenian guard Klemen Prepelic to secure a 90-89 win.
Doncic led the Slovenians with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists, marking just the third triple-double ever recorded during an Olympic contest. The last player to do that was LeBron James in 2012.
In five games, Doncic has averaged a staggering 24.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists per contest, putting him on pace to be the only basketball player ever to average a triple-double in a single Olympic Games. He hasn't been without help, with four other Slovenian players averaging double-figure scoring throughout the event.
The Australians, who had hopes of pulling off a major upset against Team USA in the semifinals, feature multiple NBA players, including Brooklyn's Patty Mills, Utah's Joe Ingles and Philadelphia's Matisse Thybulle. Mills just recently signed with the Nets after playing the past 10 seasons in San Antonio under Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich. His 19.6 points per game lead the Australians, as do his 5.6 assists.
Despite Australia having arguably more talent, though, Slovenia still has something to play for with its first-ever Olympic basketball medal on the line. And how can you bet against Luka Doncic?
Prediction: Slovenia 88, Australia 82