A Spain-USA matchup is expected in Olympic men’s basketball after gold-medal games in 2008 and 2012, but this time it’s taking place in the semifinal in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
After coming under fire for showing a lack of killer instinct in the group stage, Team USA and Kevin Durant kicked their game up a notch on Wednesday with an 105-78 quarter-final blowout against Argentina, although it took until the last minute to secure a cover.
Team USA is now at -1200 (wager $1200 to win $100) on the odds to win the gold medal in men’s basketball at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with Spain listed at +1200. Fellow semifinalists Australia and Serbia respectively stack up at +1300 and +1800.
Team USA is favored by 15.5 points against Spain for Friday, and the total is set at 187.5 points. In those two Olympic finals, their winning margins were 11 and seven points.
The teams’ shooting percentages are near-identical, but the approaches differ. Team USA, which had Durant and Paul George take over the scoring against Argentina, counts on breaking teams down with their athleticism. Spain is more about execution in the half-court, and anyone from Pau Gasol to Rudy Fernandez to Nikola Mirotic can become the go-to scorer.
The game could likely boil down to who does the better job covering their defensive liabilities without overcompensating. Spain, with slow-footed Gasol at center, has suspect low-post defense that the USA guards can attack. The Americans’ defensive intensity has often been lacking, and good passing teams such as Spain tend to take advantage of that.
In those gold-medal games, both teams scored at least 100 points.
Meanwhile, Australia is a four-point favorite against Serbia, with a total of 164.5 points. Through a backcourt combo of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova and a commitment to rugged defense, Australia has been the second-best team in Rio, and also won 95-80 when it played Serbia in the round-robin.
It is often tough to beat a good team twice in a row, but the Boomers are fully capable. Dellavedova and PG Damian Martin are defensive stoppers who can take a team out of rhythm, and Serbia will need to show a primary scoring option beyond Bogdan Bogdanovic.
The familiarity factor, and the high stakes, might keep the score down. Ultimately, Australia should be the fresher team, since Serbia’s Bogdanovic has carried his team’s offense and it’s fair to wonder how much energy they have left after a grueling quarter-final against central Europe arch rival Croatia.