SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — The U.S. 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 quarterfinals 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.
“I think our guys really focused well and did a good job in gaining ground, day by day, practice by practice,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “Hopefully we’ll continue that moving forward. We have to if we want to be successful.”
Zach LaVine scored 13 points, Jrue Holiday had 11 and JaVale McGee finished with 10 points for the U.S. The Americans shot 7 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.
“It’s fun to watch,” Holiday said, “and fun to be part of.”
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 quarterfinals based on FIBA’s tiebreaker system that includes point differential.
Those quarterfinal 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.