One of the best things about the 2020 Olympic games is that we finally get to watch 3×3 basketball on a national stage. One of the worst things about the games being in Tokyo for team USA fans however is that most of the action takes place in the middle of the night.
Arguably the two best teams in the tournament, France and the USA, meet in the inaugural semifinal after the French squad struggled in pool play, including a 17-10 defeat in their first matchup vs the USA, which earned them the four seed.
With a trip to the gold medal match on the line, I woke up at 4 am so you did not have to for a breakdown of the seminal and how it all went down.
USA vs. France
Right out of the gate the pace for both teams is off the charts, a feature of 3×3 that new watchers could be overwhelmed by. With only 10 minutes per game (a fourth of a WNBA game) there is simply no opportunity to take your time.
Stefanie Dolson scored 3 baskets right from the jump to establish her presence inside, a common theme of the games so far as she has really come into her own as an offensive player.
However, her assignment Ana Maria Filip has scoring abilities of her own that began with well executed pick and rolls, forcing can get Dolson to switch off.
One of the best shooters in the tournament has been France’s Laetitia Guapo, and so the French take advantage of the USA Leaving her open, an unrecommeded strategy for the Americans.
Allisha Gray’s speed and intensity is unmatched and has been all week. Her ability to get both offensive and defensive boards as well as force turnovers has been pivotal for the USA.
At 7-6 USA there is finally a much needed break in the action, not just for the athletes but for the viewers, as Guapo draws a free throw.
Kelsey plum knocked down a step back three while we were at commercial followed by a Gray free throw to open up a cushion. A huge block by Filip on Dolson was able to stop the USA momentum.
Another underrated factor of 3×3 gameplay is how pivotal boxing out is. With more space to cover it is essential to find a body and keep them as far away from the basket as possible, as defensive boards are much less of a guarantee.
At the halfway point neither team is on pace to reach the 21 point marker. The best way to describe the pace in these 3×3 matchups is that I cannot type a sentence before the next basket is scored. It is an absolutely enthralling sport that you cannot take your eyes off of and I am delighted to see it played more and more now that it is recognized by the Olympics.
At 6’5, Filipe hits a big three to cut the lead to 1, 12-11, forcing a timeout from the USA.
These referees are letting a lot of contact happen inside which I really like. It is more reminiscent of a street basketball game than a traditional 5 on 5 setting.
I retract my previous statement as the refs may be letting too much go. Jackie young gets tackled by Filip, but a jump ball is called, which leads to Migna Toure scoring first bucket for France.
Matchups are key and the USA is missing Dolson inside with three minutes left, Young cannot guard Filip on the block.
Dolson comes back in and France strategically takes out their post player, forcing another mismatch where Dolson cannot guard the ball handlers for France. Smart awareness by the French to continually take advantage of the weakest link.
It is a tie game 16-16 after multiple USA turnovers with just under a minute left.
Allisha Gray interestingly enough is now wearing her glasses after beginning the competition without them.
A very interesting call after a French challenge and video replay which seemed to conclusively show the ball going off of Kelsey Plum, but USA gets the ball at the top of the key.
Allisha Gray’s effort is still unmatched. She misses the first free throw, throws the goggles off once again, and drains the second to take the lead 19-18. Dolson with fantastic defense on a quicker Toure but misses the subsequent layup. Pretend to be shocked with me, but Gray with another hustle play and offensive board. Plum misses another USA free throw and France needs a three to tie it with 5 seconds left, 20-18.
The USA defense forces the ball out of bounds, giving France 2.0 seconds to continue their Olympic run.
Toure goes for an underhand/sidearm shot that doesn’t fall and just like that team USA moves on to the gold medal match against the winner of the Russian Olympic committee and china.
Gray and Plum finished with 6 points a piece, and Filip led the French with 8.
While I was asleep for the other semifinal, it did not end up being a rather exciting contest as the Russians pulled ahead half way through the game and never looked back, defeating China 21-14.
Yulia Kozik scored 10 points including two shots from beyond the arc, and Olga Frolkina added 9 points with two two-point shots of her own.
Gold Medal Game
USA vs ROC
For those now following along with goggles-gate, Allisha Gray did start with her glasses on.
Kelsey Plum can’t be guarded going left, a few early buckets give the USA a quick lead.
The Russians strategy is interesting as they don’t seem to be waiting for open shots, rather shooting one-legged jumpers that are not yet falling. Combine that with three early fouls and two turnovers and it is 4-1 USA a quarter of the way through the game.
One aspect of Dolson’s game she still needs to work on is passing out of the post when she’s either double-teamed or smothered by her defender. Finding a teammate rather than forcing a bad look would really elevate her game.
One of the biggest differences between 3×3 and 5×5 is the strategical elements of taking the ball back beyond the arc. It adds a whole new element of immediately switching to defense after scoring, and Gray took advantage of an ROC lapse, drawing the 6th Russian foul. Her free throw knocks down a free throw to make it 9-4 halfway through the contest.
I am still really confused by ROC game plan, Anastasilia Logunova gets Gray to jump in the air on a pump fake, and instead of driving she goes for a step back three that does not fall.
Yulia Kozik makes the first two of the game and then finally drives to the basket, which gets Logunova an easy bucket. The ROC are beginning to find a rhythm.
USA is getting bailed out by off the ball fouls. In 3×3 it is just not worth these ticky tack fouls when you get two free throws in the bonus.
Evgeneiia Frolkina with a nice move to make it 14-10 with three minutes left, and a back screen cut by Logunova cuts it to two.
Both teams are unsuccessfully chucking up shots in the clutch, which eventually leads to a devastating 10th foul by the ROC which gives Dolson two free throws to go up 17-12 and rewards USA the ball. Each foul from now on is essentially a flagrant, so Russia has to be careful.
Yulia Kozik with a huge three to keep the ROC hope alive, but a Dolson put back put the USA up by 4 with very little time left.
A long jumpshot cuts it to 18-15 but too little too late for the ROC. Gray grabs the ball and can dribble out the last two seconds as team USA gets the first gold medal in the 3×3 women’s basketball Olympic history. Dolson led all players with 7 points in the final.
Congrats to team USA and ROC for impressive performances in this inaugural tournament. China took home the bronze medal, beating France 16-14 in the third place game.