Published On: Sat, Aug 20th, 2016

Men's gold medal-match preview: 3 things to watch for in USA-Serbia

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One more win is all they need.

For Serbia, one more win would make it immortal. The United States have dropped exactly one gold-medal game in 24 years, and a dozen years after Athens, stories are still being written about the Golden Generation of Argentinian basketball.

For the United States, one more win would silence the critics. Never mind that the Americans have looked unimpressive as compared to previous showings – a gold is a gold. They can render all the chatter moot.

Here are three things to watch for in Sunday’s gold-medal match:

No fear whatsoever

Serbia gave the United States all it could handle in a 94-91 loss during group play – the Serbians aren’t one bit scared of a rematch.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian center Miroslav Raduljica told reporters after advancing to the finals. “(That) showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Heading into the tournament, the biggest knock against Serbia was that it would struggle to defend. The scoring would always be there given the team’s wealth of talent and experience, but could it overcome a lack of shot blocking and play disciplined defense without fouling?

Friday’s showing against Australia proved Serbia could defend at a high level. The Serbians held the Boomers to just 14 points in the first half before cruising to a 26-point victory.

If Serbia could bottle that energy, and bring it to the gold-medal match on Sunday, then there’s a very real chance it could make up the three-point difference and upset Team USA.

Interior scoring

The United States have tightened its defense in the knockout stages, but the interior will remain vulnerable so long as DeMarcus Cousins anchors the paint.

Cousins has practically worn a target on his back. He’s been the subject of pick-and-roll action throughout the tournament, and he has yet to adapt. When he’s been aggressive, Cousins has been saddled by foul trouble, and when he sits back, opponents are scoring at will.

Look no further than the the U.S. match with Serbia: Radjulica and backup center Nikola Jokic combined for 43 points on Cousins and company.

With Cousins struggling, U.S. coach Mike Kryzewski has been forced into one of two imperfect strategies. He could either play DeAndre Jordan and risk being subject to Hack-a-Shaq, or he could completely sell-out for offense by deploying the defensively-deficient Carmelo Anthony at center.

Granted, Coach K could split the difference and play Draymond Green at center when Cousins checks out. But for whatever reason, Krzyzweski has left Green stapled to the bench. That’s unlikely to change in the final, but Team USA might not have any other choice.

Clutch performer

In both 2008 and 2012, the hierarchy was clear. Crunch time belonged to Kobe Bryant, and everyone else on the team respected that. That formula delivered two gold medals.

This time around, it’s a lot murkier for the United States. No short of five players have taken their turns playing hero: Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, and even Paul George have seized the reins in crunch time.

The thinking has been that Team USA would just feed the hot hand. But when gold is on the line, the Americans will need one star to rise above the rest and deliver.

The Serbians, on the other hand, know exactly what their doing. They’ll put the ball in Milos Teodosic’s hands, and they’ll let the magician work his magic.

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