David Blatt: 'If I were France, I would be worried'

2021-08-06 08:50
Uygar Karaca, Collaborator
Credit: V. Mikaitis
Credit V. Mikaitis

Two weeks of the Olympic basketball marathon is closing in on perhaps its most fitting finish. The last two teams standing: the USA and France. Quick reminder, France beat the USA on the opening day of the tournament. Will they do the same on the closing day? Or will Team USA get their revenge and a fourth-straight Olympic gold?

BasketNews connected with David Blatt, who is no stranger to big games at both NBA and international levels. In addition to winning various European domestic league titles, Blatt led the Russian national team to the EuroBasket gold in 2007 and bronze in 2011, the Olympic bronze in 2012, Darussafaka Istanbul to the EuroCup title in 2018, Maccabi Tel Aviv to the EuroLeague title in 2014, and LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2015. We asked Mr. Blatt for his impressions about Team USA and his predictions for the final.

Credit AFP – Scanpix

Perhaps it would be an excellent starting point to make a general assessment of the adventures of Team USA in Tokyo 2020. How do you perceive the overall process? Where you concerned with their slow start? - BasketNews asked David Blatt during a phone conversation.

I was not surprised at all by the early difficulties of the USA. They had just come together for the first time and played practice games that were only a learning process. Those losses mean nothing in terms the ultimate result. The USA has more quality and greater size and athleticism than all other teams. They are extremely well-coached. Although, it's difficult to put a deep system into a team with only a few weeks of preparation. So you're very dependent on the quality of your players and their willingness to grow together day by day. But the criticism and the reaction to the loss of practice games in my mind is, is only media-driven and is foolish and without any value or sense.

To be more specific, the team management was criticized because of not coming with a well-established big player, perhaps in the traditional sense. Do you agree with this criticism? 

Who is playing with a traditional big player today? You can name on one hand the number of teams that are playing that way today. The NBA champions played without a traditional big player? Yeah. If I'm not mistaken. 

The whole idea of playing with big players that can play on the perimeter as well as close to the basket is something that now is very, very popular. Most teams are playing with a versatile big man who can play both facing the basket and with his back to the basket, much like Nikola Jokic.

Very interestingly, the EuroLeague champion this year, Anadolu Efes - and I would like to say congratulations to coach Ataman for a great achievement - at times played with a more traditional type of center, but at other times with a center who could face the basket. For example, Sanli, when he played as a five, he is a face-up big man. So, this is not uncommon, and no need to criticize the building of Team USA. It's kind of, in my mind, foolish.

Credit AFP – Scanpix

In their first meeting, France played the USA with a somewhat orthodox approach with their bigs, Rudy Gobert, Vincent Poirier, Fall, playing in tandems from time to time, with great effectiveness. Along with them, Yabusele attacked the rim, which gave great damage to the US.

Yeah, of course. But don't forget that many of the players on the French team are NBA players. And I will tell you this: France is a very good team. You don't always have to say that there is a problem with the USA team. You can also say France is a very good team. They have great continuity. They have a great commitment on the part of their players to the national team program. And they have great quality. 

Do you think that the USA needs to do something different in the final against France? 

Well, first of all, when you have two good teams, anyone can win the game. You know, it's not a secret that the team that will take better care of the basketball, the one that will make open shots, that will rebound well, and will manage to bring their strengths to the forefront in the most important game, they will be the team that will reach the gold medal. You know, these are two very good teams. This is not a situation where one team is, you know, 20 or 30 points better.

But I will say this: if I were France, I would be worried that they won their big game against the USA too early. You know what I mean? Okay, it was a great victory and no reason to diminish the importance of that achievement. But you know that game was played almost two weeks ago. USA today is a different team. Even it was only two weeks, they've had the chance to play a number of games. They've had a chance to come together. They've had a chance to get acclimated more to the FIBA game, and they will be even more competitive in this game than they were in the first game lost to France.

From a statistical standpoint, it is evident that 3-pointers are particularly important to Team USA. What would you comment on that? 

No surprise whatsoever. This is the way the game is being played more and more worldwide. And particularly in the NBA. When the United States face teams that recognize their athletic ability and their ability to attack the rim, they're going to play defense in such away. So as to try to minimize that effect and to force the USA team to shoot as many outside shots as possible. That's why the USA built their team in this fashion.

If you're paying attention, coach Popovich, who is a truly great coach, was one of the first American coaches to bring the European style play to the NBA. So all of these foolish critics of his ability to coach in the FIBA game, you know, they're just simply blinded by their desire to criticize, but are not realistic in terms of understanding what is happening. Coach Popovich and his people, they built the team in such a way to prepare themselves for a European style game. And particularly for FIBA game.

I know this is tough but what's your prediction for the final? 

I think that the USA is considered the favorite for this game, but France has shown great performance in this year's Olympic cycle. And it is a cycle, really; it's more than just one tournament. It's a number of tournaments. They have the chance to give a very good game. They've already shown that in the group play against the USA. But the USA will be much more ready physically and mentally for this game. France played a very difficult game (against Slovenia). Whereas the United States had a relatively easy game in the second half which means that physically, they will be less tired and probably a little more fresh for this game. 

Remember, it's back-to-back games. And this is important. But I hope to see a good game. You know, of course, both teams have great quality. France's advantage is that they have played together longer, but the United States still have more quality and have learned how they need to play to win in these games. So, it should be very very fun and interesting game. I will not be surprised at all if USA wins, but I also, I won't be shocked if France wins.

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4 Position
Field goals
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6 Position
5 Position
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7 Position
2 Position

Teams leaders

Evan  Fournier
19,2 PTS
54% 2P%
42% 3P%
Kevin  Durant
19,0 PTS
67% 2P%
39% 3P%
Rudy  Gobert
9,6 REB
6,6 DREB
3,0 OREB
Bam  Adebayo
5,6 REB
3,2 DREB
2,4 OREB
Nando De Colo
6,0 As
3,0 TO
24 MIN
Jrue  Holiday
4,4 As
1,6 TO
25 MIN