By Frank Gogola | @FrankGogola
RIO DE JANEIRO – The end is in sight for U.S. men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and it could be golden.
Krzyzewski will coach his final game as the head coach of USA Basketball in the gold-medal game against Serbia at 3:45 p.m. Sunday at Carioca Arena 1 in Barra’s Olympic Park. Krzyzewski could become the first U.S. men’s basketball coach to lead teams to three Olympic gold medals.
The U.S. advanced to the gold-medal game by defeating Spain, 82-76, on Friday. With points at a premium, Klay Thompson paced the U.S. with 22, leading the team in points for the second time in three games.
DeAndre Jordan tied the U.S. Olympic record with a 16-rebound performance. He added nine points and four blocks.
“The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size,” said Spain coach Sergio Scariolo. “The difference of athleticism was what made the difference. Rebounds, blocks, intimidation.”
The defense has carried the U.S. in knockout play, holding Argentina to 78 points and Spain to 76, after a trio of close games to close out group play. The 101.6 points per game scored and 21.5 per-game scoring differential are the lowest marks in the three Olympic Games Krzyzewski has coached.
The U.S. (7-0) has played three single-digit games in Rio after only two such wins in Krzyzewski’s first 16 Olympic games. The fewest points his teams had previously scored were 92 in a 23-point blowout over Greece at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
“I think it’s the most different game I’ve coached internationally for the United States,” Krzyzewski said. “It was a very hard game. It wasn’t easy flowing. Both teams had to make big plays. I thought our guys did that a little bit more than they did, and that’s why we won.”
The U.S. has won gold in five of the six Olympics since NBA players were first allowed to play at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. They won bronze and went 5-3 at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games under coach Larry Brown, which prompted a restructuring of USA Basketball.
In 2005, Jerry Colangelo was chosen as USA Basketball’s managing director and Krzyzewski was named the head coach. Krzyzewski’s national teams are on a 70-game win streak, including a 23-0 record in the Olympics, following the semifinal win over Spain.
His teams have gone 82-1 since 2005 with the lone setback a 101-95 loss to a Greece squad without any NBA players in the semifinals of the 2006 World Basketball Championships.
Krzyzewski coached the U.S. to Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, plus world titles in 2010 and 2014. Henry Iba is the only other U.S. coach to win two Olympic gold medals, at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games and Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games.
The gold-medal game will be the final game as the U.S. coach for Krzyzewski, who’s stepping down after a run of nearly 11 years. San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich will succeed the Duke coach.
Serbia (4-3) defeated Australia, 87-61, in a semifinal Friday night. The U.S. beat Serbia in the fourth game of group play, 94-91, after a last-second 3-point attempt by Bogdan Bogdanovic to tie the game was off the mark. Six U.S. players scored in double digits and the team made 33 of 42 free-throw attempts, while Serbia’s Nikola Jokic led all players with 25 points.
As Krzyzewski looks to close his Olympic coaching career with a third gold medal, 10 of the 12 players are looking to win their first.
“We’ve been together for maybe two months, and I feel like I know these guys and have played with these guys for my whole career,” Jordan said. “It’s a lot of guys who are great character guys and guys who get along and who want to sacrifice and adapt to win a gold medal. It’s amazing. It makes the game a lot easier.
“Now, we have an opportunity to win a gold medal. Coach has an opportunity to win his third. It’s an amazing feeling. We really want to accomplish this.”
Frank Gogola is a student in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.