It's been suggested that this might be the toughest gold medal route the U.S. men's basketball team has had to navigate since NBA players joined the Olympic party in 1992. The Americans got through the first of a three-round sprint on Monday, defeating Spain, the second-ranked team in the world, in the quarterfinals.
Next up is Australia in the first semifinal -- set for Thursday morning (late Wednesday night, for all intents and purposes, in the United States) at 12:15 a.m. ET. If the Americans pass that test, they'll be on to the gold medal game, where they would face either France, which beat them less than a week ago in their group-stage opener, or Slovenia, which employs a rather good player by the name of Luka Doncic.
It won't be easy for either Doncic or Team USA to advance to the final. Australia went 4-0 through its group stage and has beaten the U.S. the last two times they've faced off (2019 World Cup exhibition, 2021 Olympic exhibition), while France, in addition to beating the U.S., also went 4-0 in group play and probably has a better top-to-bottom roster than Slovenia.
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But who's betting against Doncic right now? He's 17-0 in his FIBA career, and he's led Slovenia, which came into the Olympics as the 16th-ranked team in the world (that's deceiving, but a fact nonetheless) to a 4-0 record in Tokyo so far. Through the group stage, Doncic averaged 28.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, seven assists, 1.7 blocks, one steal per game.
Doncic had 48 points in Slovenia's win over Argentina to kick off the group stage, the second-highest single-game output in Olympic history. He barely missed a triple-double in Slovenia's win over Spain (12 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists) -- a feat that hasn't been accomplished in Olympic play since LeBron James in 2012. He nearly did it again with 20 points, 11 assists and eight boards in their quarterfinal win over Germany.
Doncic joined the Slovenian national team when he was a teenager in 2017, and he immediately led his country to gold at the Turkey EuroBasket. Slovenia, which has never qualified for the Olympics until this year, has been the best international offense in the world since that time.
With a win over France, Slovenia would ensure itself of becoming the first team since Croatia and Lithuania in 1992 to win a medal in its inaugural Olympics. Even if Slovenia loses to France, they'd still have a shot at the bronze medal against the Australia-USA loser. There are still two games to go, but can you imagine Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and company going head to head with Doncic with a gold medal on the line? Sign me up.