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The United States and France battle for the gold medal in men’s basketball.

The United States and France battle for the gold medal in men’s basketball.
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The United States and France battle for the gold medal in men’s basketball.

The United States and France battle for the gold medal in men’s basketball.

TOKYO – The men’s basketball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics comes to a close on Saturday with the gold medal game between the United States and France in the morning (on NBC; follow our live coverage) and a third place game between Australia and Slovenia later in the day (7 a.m. EST in the US).

The Americans, who won three consecutive gold medals in the 2008 event, lost their opening game of the tournament to France, raising questions about the team’s preparation for the Games. It didn’t help that they had several shaky performances, including two losses, in a series of warm-up matches before heading to Tokyo.

But they have improved with every game since. The question is whether they have improved enough, in this short period of time, to secure the championship.

Despite their loss in the first game, the Americans are still favorites to win their 16th gold in men’s basketball.

Much of their recent boost in confidence has been the play of Kevin Durant, who became the nation’s career top scorer at the Olympics during the tournament and appeared dominant in the team’s last two games. After scoring just 10 points in the loss to France, he leads the team with 19 points per game. Jayson Tatum, coming off the bench, added 14.4 points per game, while Jrue Holliday added 12.

For all the Americans’ prowess, it will be the defense of their team that could make the difference. France, like virtually every other team the United States has faced, have tried to use size and force to intimidate the smaller American lineups. Bouncing on both sides of the ball will be crucial.

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The France team – whose best men’s basketball results are silver medals in 1948 and 2000 – narrowly slipped into the championship game with a 90-89 victory over Slovenia, requiring a block Nicolas Batum’s last second on Klemen Prepelic’s lay-up attempt to seal the result.

Rudy Gobert, the seven-foot-one cross, was a vital presence for France in the lane. He finished with 9 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks in the game against Slovenia, and the Frenchman will certainly try to establish his presence early and often in the title game.

Evan Fournier, who signed with the Knicks this week, exploded for 28 points against the United States in the teams’ first meeting. The American players went on to praise the France squad’s offensive execution, in part the result of years of continuity in the program. In a sense, the game pits the well-trained French against the extremely talented Americans.

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