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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Kevin Durant Leads Rally From Double Digit Deficit as Team USA Defeats Spain, 95-81

Kevin Durant scored 29 points on 10-17 field goal shooting as Team USA bounced back from a sluggish first quarter to beat Spain 95-81 and advance to the semifinal round of the 2020 Olympics (being held in 2021). Durant played 31 out of 40 minutes, five minutes more than any other American player, and it is fair to say that without his efficient offense Team USA would have been in serious jeopardy of losing and thus becoming the first U.S. men's basketball team to participate in the Olympics without winning a medal. Team USA will next face Australia. Australia shot 17-38 (.447) from three point range in a 97-59 quarterfinal win against Argentina

Four other Team USA players finished with at least 10 points versus Spain, including Jayson Tatum (13 points on 4-7 field goal shooting), Jrue Holiday (12 points on 5-8 field goal shooting), Damian Lillard 11 points on 4-10 field goal shooting), and Zach LaVine (10 points on 4-8 field goal shooting). Holiday has emerged as one of the most valuable players on the team because of his heady play, scrappy defense, and timely scoring.

Ricky Rubio led Spain with a game-high 38 points on 13-20 field goal shooting. Sergio Rodriguez added 16 points on 6-10 field goal shooting. Willy Hernangomez (10 points on 4-11 field goal shooting, plus a game-high 10 rebounds, and a game-high three blocked shots) was the only other Spanish player who scored in double figures.

Spain led 21-19 after the first quarter, ending the stanza on an 11-2 run. Team USA had several defensive lapses that resulted in wide open shots for Spain. Rubio led both teams with 13 first quarter points on 5-8 field goal shooting, while Durant topped Team USA with seven points but he shot just just 2-6 from the field. When Durant is not dominating and Team USA's defense is shaky Team USA looks very vulnerable. Team USA's half court offense--outside of whatever Durant creates on his own--is not pretty or particularly efficient and the defense often operates as if Team USA does not have current, accurate scouting reports for the opposing team.

Spain's lead swelled to 39-29 in the second quarter, with Hernangomez looking like Bill Russell as he repeatedly rejected Team USA's shots in the paint. Team USA then resorted to jacking up three pointers a la the Mike D'Antoni/James Harden Houston Rockets. At one point, Spain had dominated the boards 27-14 and had also blocked four shots while Team USA did not have any blocked shots. Rebounding is about positioning, anticipation, and hustle. Team USA has more than enough size and athleticism to outrebound any team in this tournament, so their first half rebounding performance is very disappointing. Fortuntately, Team USA outrebounded Spain 18-15 the rest of the way.

Despite the mental miscues and lack of hustle, Team USA closed the first half with a 14-4 run to tie the score at 43-43. It must have been very discouraging for Spain to outplay Team USA for the better part of the first 20 minutes only to squander their entire advantage by halftime. Rubio did not score in the second quarter but still led Spain with 13 first half points, while Sergio Rodriguez had 10 points. Kevin Durant was Team USA's only double figure scorer with 12 points on 4-10 field goal shooting. Team USA shot 17-45 (.378) from the field, including 4-17 (.235) from three point range. Spain shot 17-38 (.447) from the field, including 3-15 (.200) from three point range. At halftime, Spain enjoyed a 29-18 rebound advantage, and had blocked six shots while Team USA had not blocked any shots. 

Not surprisingly, the deeper and more talented Team USA squad began to pull away in the third quarter. Powered by Durant's 13 points on 4-5 field goal shooting, Team USA won the third quarter, 26-20. Team USA actually led 65-49 before Spain closed the gap to 69-63 heading into the fourth quarter. Team USA did not score in the final 2:59 of the third quarter, but opened the fourth quarter with an 8-3 burst to build a double digit lead, and the margin did not fall below eight points the rest of the way.

Team USA has been prone to both slow starts and extended periods of sluggish play, but has been able to survive and advance mainly because of Durant's greatness combined with superior overall talent and depth. The remaining games figure to pose even tougher challenges.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:13 PM



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