By Steve Keating
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The U.S. men's basketball team closed out pool play with an unbeaten record and at the top of Group A but another nervy 100-97 win over France on Sunday confirmed getting to the top of the Olympic podium will not be an easy climb.
"Personally I felt we were going to dominate these games that they were going to come easy," said USA guard Paul George. "But you start playing better competition you see these teams are pretty good."
After a pair of blowouts with China and Venezuela to open the Olympic tournament, the United States has received a wakeup call in the way of narrow three-point wins over France and Serbia and a battling 10 point victory against Australia.
The alarm bells continued to ring on Sunday as the United States allowed France, playing without talismanic point guard Tony Parker, to come back from a 16-point deficit late in the third quarter to turn what should have been a rout into another nailbiter.
Despite their troubles, the United States finished pool play a perfect 5-0 while running their Olympic winning streak to 22 games and were still the favorite to claim what would be a third straight gold on the final day of the Games.
"Today they did not play very well and still won so they are still the favorites," said 7-foot, 1-inch (2.16) French center Rudy Gobert, also known as the 'Stifle Tower'.
The United States will not know their quarterfinal opponent until after the final Group B matches on Monday but regardless will have to up their game considerably if they hope to make it to the final.
While the Team USA performance has been uneven, coach Mike Krzyzewski remained unconcerned noting there is only one statistic that matters and that is what is in the win column, where his team is perfect.
"At the end of the day, no one will ask you anything else except if you have won," said Krzyzewski. "While you are approaching that winning you are asked a bunch of other things.
"I think we are getting better offensively and we have to get better defensively."
Like nearly every other nation that lines up against the United States, France came into the contest still searching for their first-ever Olympic win.
The two nations had met five times previously with the closet France coming to a victory being a 10-point loss in the gold medal final at the Sydney Olympics.
France came closer to ending their frustration on Sunday, and fancied their chances, but to beat a U.S. team even not firing on all cylinders will take something special.
"You've seen the past three games, against Serbia, against Australia and we thought we had a chance too," said Frenchman Boris Diaw. "We played pretty well but we didn't play perfectly and you have to have a near perfect game to beat them.
"They haven't been dominating but they haven't lost either. They are struggling but they are winning."
(Editing by Andrew Hay)