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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Kevin Durant Dominates as Team USA Routs Serbia 96-66 in Gold Medal Game

Serbia kept the game competitive for a little over 10 minutes but Team USA mounted a huge second quarter run en route to a 96-66 victory to win Olympic gold for the third straight time. Team USA slipped by Serbia 94-91 in Group A play and it seemed reasonable to expect a close game again but this time Team USA reached a level that Serbia could not come close to matching, outscoring Serbia 60-28 in the second and third quarters; during those 20 minutes, Team USA played tenacious defense and featured the ball/player movement that had been largely absent earlier in the tournament. Was Team USA on cruise control for the first seven games or did Team USA build on each game to peak at just the right moment? We may never know for sure but all that matters is that Team USA came through when it mattered most and delivered the kind of emphatic victory that Team USA fans have been wanting and expecting since the Olympics began.

Kevin Durant was magnificent, scoring a game-high 30 points on 10-19 field goal shooting in a game-high 30 minutes and posting a +38 plus/minus number. Durant also scored 30 points in Team USA's 107-100 win over Spain in the gold medal game at the 2012 Olympics. DeMarcus Cousins came off the bench to produce 13 points and 15 rebounds in just 17 minutes. Klay Thompson was the only other Team USA player to reach double figures, scoring 12 points while also playing solid defense. Paul George's stat line is forgettable (9 points on 2-9 field goal shooting, two rebounds, two assists, three steals) but his gaudy +37 plus/minus number hints at his hidden impact; his suffocating defense played a major role in Team USA's huge second quarter run that determined the outcome of the game. Carmelo Anthony struggled in the gold medal game, which has been the case throughout his Olympic career; he finished with seven points on 3-7 field goal shooting, plus seven rebounds (one of which he grabbed late in the game after being reinserted so that he could set the USA record for career Olympic rebounds). Anthony scored eight points on 3-9 field goal shooting in the 2012 Olympics gold medal game and after performing poorly early in the contest he was on the bench for the final 8:13 of Team USA's 118-107 win in the 2008 gold medal game versus Spain .

Nikola Jokic was the best player on the court during the aforementioned Group A matchup between Team USA and Serbia, pouring in a game-high 25 points on 11-15 field goal shooting, but Team USA made a concerted effort to shut him down this time: he finished with just six points on 3-5 field goal shooting. No Serbian player stood out today; Nemanja Nedovic scored a game-high 14 points, most of which he accumulated in garbage time.

After experimenting with his starting lineup early in the Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski settled on this group: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving. Doug Collins noted that Jordan compensates for Irving's defensive shortcomings (particularly in screen/roll actions) for the first unit, while Kyle Lowry's ball pressure compensates for DeMarcus Cousins' defensive shortcomings (particularly in screen/roll actions) for the second unit. Serbia started Milan Macvan, Nikola Kalinic, Miroslav Raduljica, Stefan Markovic and Milos Teodesic, a quintet that routed Australia in the previous game, denying Australia a chance to win a medal. Serbia has a tough and well-disciplined team but they just had no answers for Team USA's depth and athleticism once Team USA decided to lock in defensively while playing unselfishly on offense. As Collins put it, a team as talented as Team USA is should never take "degree of difficulty shots" but rather should move the ball and move players until a high percentage shot is created. In the gold medal game, Team USA largely eschewed one on one play and instead probed Serbia's defense with precision passing or timely drives until Serbia just could not withstand the onslaught.

However, it was far from apparent in the early going that this would be a rout--or even that Team USA was assured a victory. Team USA turned the ball over on its first two possessions as Serbia took a 7-4 lead. Serbia was still up 14-12 at the 1:40 mark before George sank a pair of free throws. Cousins then converted a layup to make the score 16-14 in favor of Team USA. He missed the ensuing free throw for the three point play opportunity but Team USA never trailed again. Durant's three pointer with :29 remaining in the opening stanza extended the Team USA lead to 19-15, which was the score entering the second quarter.

Serbia had kept the pace slow and the score low, holding Team USA to 7-20 field goal shooting (.350) and six turnovers in the first quarter. It looked like Team USA would have to grind this one out but instead Team USA ratcheted up the defensive pressure and Serbia succumbed, perhaps satisfied to receive the silver medal. George opened the quarter with a steal and a fastbreak dunk. Cousins sank four straight free throws. Durant dropped in a pair of three pointers and then matched George with a steal/coast to coast dunk. Suddenly, Team USA was up 33-20 and smelling blood in the water. Collins noted that Coach Krzyzewski wants to force the opposition to "make plays instead of running plays." By taking Serbia out of their sets, Team USA created turnovers and bad shots that fueled their transition game. Collins also mentioned that another Coach Kryzezewski goal is for his teams to make more free throws than the opposition attempts. In this game, Team USA shot 18-23 from the free throw line while Serbia shot 10-14.

Durant scored 18 of Team USA's 33 second quarter points as Team USA took a 52-29 halftime lead and he had 24 first half points on 9-13 field goal shooting. Cousins added 11 points and 12 rebounds in the first half as Team USA's inside-outside 1-2 punch stretched Serbia's defense to the breaking point.

Team USA did not let up at all in the third quarter, outscoring Serbia 27-14 to extend the margin to 79-43. The only questions in the fourth quarter were if Team USA would break the record for point differential in an Olympic gold medal game (44) and whether every Team USA player would score at least one point. Team USA led 88-47 midway through the quarter before calling off the dogs somewhat, enabling Serbia to outscore Team USA 23-17 in the final stanza to cut the margin to an even 30 points. Harrison Barnes, who did not even see action in four of Team USA's games, received nearly six minutes of fourth quarter playing time and became the final Team USA player to score when he converted a driving layup in the last minute of play.

Team USA was rightly criticized for some shaky performances during the Olympics but at the end of the day they won every game that they played and they performed their best when the games mattered most, holding each of their final three opponents to 78 points or less and field goal percentages below .400. I am not a huge fan of Anthony's game and I am not surprised that he again came up small in the biggest games but I must say that I was moved by how overcome with emotion he was in the moments right after the game. It is obvious that representing his country is very important to Anthony and I commend him for that, particularly since so many players over the years have turned down that opportunity; Anthony has answered that call four times and the flaws in his game do not diminish the dedication that he has demonstrated in support of America and of USA Basketball. Each player on the team committed himself to sacrifice for the greater good; this may not have been a Dream Team but it was an American team that represented America well and it was a pleasure to watch them play the right way in the gold medal game.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:23 PM


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