Kevin Durant Leads U.S. Into Olympic Basketball Semifinals
SAITAMA, Japan – With 13 seconds left on the clock, Kevin Durant found himself sliding towards the basket with no one around him.
He climbed smoothly to the edge and dunked the ball with both hands. When the buzzer sounded moments later, Draymond Green ran over to Durant, grabbed his hand and slammed his chest. It seemed like a gesture of both celebration and appreciation.
Having one of the universe’s most complete goal scorers on your basketball team has its perks.
It’s a lesson Green and his American teammates were happy to learn on Tuesday afternoon – a luxury they had to exploit over the past two weeks – as Durant took control of their quarterback game. Olympic final against Spain, scoring 29 points. points to lead the Americans to an initially nervous, but ultimately comfortable, 95-81 victory.
“Kevin Durant has been great,” said Green. “He was who we needed him to be. He showed why he is arguably the greatest player in the world.
The victory sent the United States to the semi-finals of the men’s tournament, where they will meet the winner of a competition between Argentina and Australia.
From the start of their preparations for the Games, US players have spoken openly about how they always learn to play together as a group, rather than just an assemblage of individual stars. They lost two exhibition matches before leaving home and then began their Olympic campaign with a loss to France.
The good thing, Green said, is that they keep improving. The only bad thing, he said, is that they don’t have much time to find out.
“I think the potential of this team is endless,” said Green. “Unfortunately we have two games left so we have to make sure we keep improving every time we get on the pitch. I think that’s what we did.
Even as they improve, even if many question marks remain, they have the ultimate insurance plan in Durant, who proved again on Tuesday that he can undo the chains of the world’s most rigorously drilled defenses. .
The United States got off to a slow start, settling for outside shots and failing, as Spain built a 10-point lead at the end of the second quarter. The Americans shot just 38 percent from the field in the first half, making just 4 of 17 3-point attempts.
But Durant and his teammates got more aggressive before the half-time break. They worked the ball inside, destabilizing the Spanish defense, and ended the quarter with a 14-4 streak. This sent the teams into the locker room tied at 43-43.
“If we drive him to the paint, there will be a couple of guys converging, so we can get the 3,” Durant said. “If we go out just throwing 3s early, if we don’t hit them, it’s going to look bad.”
As Durant warmed up to 3 points in the third, the Americans took control of the game and never let go. Durant finished the game 10 for 17 on the field, including 4 for 7 at 3 points.
Afterwards, Durant said he was still comfortable with his role. His remaining opponents can watch warily to see how comfortable he feels.
“In this context, it’s always difficult to gain a foothold as an individual player because you don’t want to step on your toes, you come in and out of the game, you don’t play that many minutes, you get that many shots Durant said. “But I like the way we’ve been holding up this whole time, and the guys are starting to figure out what to do.”
The bigger and better trained Spaniards used their height as an advantage whenever they could. They won the rebound battle, 42-32, and took advantage of several second chance opportunities around the basket.
Ricky Rubio was their main instigator on offense, leading all scorers with 38 points.
Asked about Durant’s importance, US coach Gregg Popovich drew a comparison with Rubio’s role in the Spanish team.
“They’re both great players, and they’re both hard to stop,” Popovich said, adding of Durant: “In these games every team has people like that, who they depend on success, and he certainly did. “
A gold medal run would put an exclamation mark on a long season for Durant, who missed the entire 2019-20 NBA season after tearing his right Achilles tendon. He returned to the Nets this season and averaged 34.2 points in their 12 playoff games.
“Kevin is a rhythm player, and determining the pace and flow is important,” said Green. “We’ve figured that out now, and we’ve made it possible for him to do what he’s good at, and he’s been great.”
The absence from the United States squad (and the Olympic tournament) of some of the game’s biggest stars – LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden – has highlighted Durant. But he seems to be taking it in stride, asserting his identity in increasingly meaningful ways, even though he seemed to take little pleasure in qualifying for the semi-finals on Tuesday.
“We’re supposed to be here,” Durant said. “For us, it’s about getting a gold medal.”
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