by Rocky Swift
TOKYO (Reuters) – The United States has secured a spot in the quarterfinals in men’s Olympic basketball on Saturday, when next week’s final eight clashes take shape.
Kevin Durant led the US team to a 119-84 victory over the Czech Republic in the group’s final game at the Saitama Super Arena north of Tokyo.
The United States ended the qualifiers 2-1 after losing their first game to France, the first Olympic defeat for the Americans since 2004.
“We are all trying to understand each other. This is literally our third game with all of us together,” said Jrue Holiday, who plays for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. “But we knew KD would come and do what he always does.”
The USA team started slowly against the Czech team and was losing towards the end of the first quarter. But the Americans pulled away in the second half with a three-point flurry from Durant and Jayson Tatum.
In previous matches, France and Australia completed their group victories in the early stages of the tournament.
Real Madrid’s Thomas Heurtel led with 16 points as France beat Iran 79-62. They went 3-0 in Group A, including the US team’s surprise defeat on Sunday.
Despite his team’s dominant display thus far, Evan Fournier would not speculate on France’s chances of a medal.
“First the quarter-finals. Focus on that,” said Fournier, who plays for the NBA’s Boston Celtics. “We often beat really, really good teams and lost in the semifinals, so that’s enough.”
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman / Shri Navaratnam / Hugh Lawson / Ken Ferris)
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