Olympics: US NBA stars go for gold against Serbia
RIO DE JANEIRO—All that stands between the NBA stars of defending champion United States and a sixth Olympic gold medal in seven tries is a determined Serbian team ready for the challenge.
The Americans carry a 24-game Olympic win streak and an overall decade-long streak of 75 consecutive triumphs into Sunday’s Rio final seeking a third gold medal in a row.
“When the stakes are the highest is when we all play the best and there won’t be any higher than on Sunday,” said US guard Klay Thompson. “Expect a great effort from all of us.”
US coach Mike Krzyzewski guides the US team for the final time, set to be replaced by NBA San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after the Games.
“Serbia is talented. They are one of the top teams in the world,” Krzyzewski said. “They have played together a long time.”
US forward Carmelo Anthony could be the first man to win three Olympic basketball gold medals as part of a team with 10 players seeking their first who came together only a month ago.
“We got one more game to go and we have to lock in,” Anthony said.
“That’s what we came here for and we don’t want to leave with anything less than the gold medal. It would be a great thing for us.”
Kevin Durant, a former NBA Most Valuable Player, knows the pressure of big games just as all his teammates do.
“It should be fun,” Durant said. “It’s going to be electric in the building for the opportunity to grab all the marbles. Everybody here wants that. That’s our main goal since we got together is to win the gold. So we’re looking forward to playing.”
Serbian bonds run deep as well and clinching a first-ever medal for a nation that was part of the former Yugoslavia has united a team behind a dream of gold.
“We have big hearts. We play for each other. We’re going to die for each other on the court,” Serb forward Nikola Jokic said.
“Everybody has courage. Actually, everybody wants to play them. They are the best. We’re going to have to beat the best.”
The Americans only beat Serbia 94-91 last week, the narrowest margin of their US Olympic win streak.
“We understand it won’t be easy,” US guard Kyrie Irving said. “We’ll just be prepared when it comes.”
And Serbia kept an Australian team with four NBA champion players to 14 points in the first half of a semi-final romp.
“They are for sure the best team in the tournament. A great team, with big names,” Serbian captain Milos Teodosic said of the USA. “We are going to play our game and we will see if it’s enough for a win.”
A US collection of NBA talent beat Serbia 129-92 in the 2014 Basketball World Cup final to earn a berth in Rio.
“Two years ago, we were not mentally ready. We were too happy to be in the final,” Teodosic said. “We cannot allow ourselves to repeat one more final like this.”
US guard Paul George expects another physical matchup just as their meeting last week became.
“They are going to be ready for us,” George said. “We just know how physical (Serbia is) going to be — imposing and physical as well as talented group. We got to be able to match their physicality, I think that’s going to be important, and not allow that to get us out of our game.”
Serbia coach Sasha Djordevic, who lost to the USA’s second NBA Olympic squad in the 1996 final as a member of Yugoslavia, wants his team proud but not satisfied.
“Our confidence is growing,” he said. “It’s time to rewrite the legacy of Serbia basketball… I have to not let them be satisfied right now.”
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