U.S. rolls over Czechs in Olympic men's basketball to punch ticket to final 8
France, Australia sweep respective pools to march into quarters undefeated
The United States lost its first two exhibition games of the summer in Las Vegas, dropped its opening game at these Olympics and had a difficult time shaking free of the Czech Republic in their group-play finale.
None of that matters now.
The Americans are headed to the quarter-finals at the Tokyo Games — with a shot of being good as gold once again. Jayson Tatum scored 27 points, Kevin Durant added 23 and set a pair of USA Basketball men's Olympic records, and the U.S. defeated the Czechs 119-84 on Saturday to clinch a berth in the knockout stage.
Zach LaVine scored 13 points, Jrue Holiday had 11 and JaVale McGee finished with 10 points for the U.S. The Americans shot seven for 20 in the first quarter — then made 33 of 44 shots over the next 26 minutes, including a staggering 21-for-25 start to the second half.
The U.S. (2-1) finished second behind France in Group A, but will join the French, Australia and the winner of Sunday's game between Slovenia and Spain as a top-four seed for Tuesday's quarter-finals based on FIBA's tiebreaker system that includes point differential.
Those quarter-final matchups will be decided in a draw on Sunday night, but the U.S. has now assured itself of not having to face any of the three group winners until at least the semifinals.
Blake Schilb scored 17 for the Czech Republic (1-2), which led by 10 early and was still up 60-54 midway through the third quarter.
In a flash, the Czech hope of a stunner ended there.
Durant — who passed Carmelo Anthony as both the U.S. Olympic men's all-time points and all-time field goals leader during the game — hit a three-pointer to end the third quarter, capping a 22-6 run that put the Americans up by 22 going into the final quarter.
The outcome was not in doubt again.
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Ondrej Balvin scored 15, Jan Vesely had 13 and Tomas Satoransky added 12 points for the Czechs.
The U.S. is headed to the quarters, where it is win-or-else time. And the quarter-finals were the round where it all went awry for the U.S. at the last major international competition, the Basketball World Cup in China two years ago. The Americans lost to France, ending all hope of a medal and eventually finished seventh.
Durant helps U.S. find its stride
This team — 54-point winners over Iran and 35-point winners on Saturday — hasn't looked much like that one, though it needed some time to find its best stride against the Czechs.
The Czechs led by as many as 10 in the first quarter, shooting 65 per cent to the Americans' 35 per cent in the opening 10 minutes. With a roster featuring just one current NBA player — Satoransky — they did not look the least bit intimidated by the U.S.
Durant gave the U.S. its first lead midway through the second quarter, a three-pointer to put the Americans up 34-33. The lead eventually got to as much as seven, before the U.S. settled for a 47-43 edge at halftime.
And that left some in the crowd — hundreds of people were in the lower bowl of the arena, even though no tickets were being sold — more than a bit anxious. Among them were members of the German team — their hopes of qualifying as one of the top third-place teams hinged on the outcome of this game.
By the start of the fourth, the Germans could relax. So could the Americans.
France downs Iran to sweep pool
Meanwhile, Thomas Heurtel scored 16 points and France completed an unbeaten run through Olympic men's basketball group play with a 79-62 victory over Iran on Saturday.
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot added 12 points and Nando de Colo had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists for the French, who opened Group A by beating the U.S. 83-76 and then breezed from there.
The French routed the Czech Republic 97-77 and then led comfortably throughout the second half against Iran.
They will get one of the top seeds when the draw is conducted to determine the quarter-final pairings. The quarter-finals will be played Tuesday.
Frank Ntilikina played for the first time here after sitting out the first two games with muscle discomfort. The New York Knicks guard scored three points.
Former NBA centre Hamed Haddadi had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Iran, which was winless in three games in its first appearance in men's basketball at the Olympics since 2008.
Italy downs Nigeria to advance to quarters
Italy is headed back to the Olympic quarter-finals, ousting Nigeria to clinch that spot.
Nicolo Melli scored 15 points, Nico Mannion had 14 and Italy used a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to rally and beat Nigeria 80-71 in the Group B finale for both teams on Saturday.
Achille Polonara added 13, Simone Fontecchio scored 12 and Stefano Tonut finished with 10 for Italy (2-1). The Italians will finish second in Group B, behind Australia.
Either way, the Italians will play again on Tuesday. It's the fifth consecutive Olympic appearance in which Italy has reached the quarter-finals, the most recent of those coming in 2004 when it won the silver medal at the Athens Games.
Australia beats Germany to sweep pool
Patty Mills scored 24 points, Jock Landale added 18 and Australia pulled away Saturday for an 89-76 victory over Germany and an undefeated finish to group play.
Nic Kay helped the Australians finally break free in a close game and finished with 16 points.
The Australians went 3-0 to win Group B, a balanced pool where they, Italy and Germany all played competitive games against each other.
Italy finished second at 2-1. Germany will hope to be one of the two third-place teams that will reach the quarters along with the top two teams in each of the three pools.