Durant Leads Team USA to Win in Olympic Opener
In the Olympic opener for Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s club, Team USA broke away from a choppy pace in the first quarter to outscore France 30-15 in the second quarter and 26-15 in the third quarter en route to a 98-71 victory. It was the first ever Olympic game for Thunder players Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, all of whom made a major impact in the victory. The trio of players in their young 20’s are enjoying their experience in London and taking advantage of playing on an international stage.
“It was fun, we came out and played hard,” Durant said to NBC’s Craig Sager after the game. “Guys played together. This is all that I expected. I’m glad that we were able to get the win tonight.”
Led by game-high 22 points and co-game-high nine rebounds from Durant, Team USA completely chanced the tempo of the game during the middle quarters. France pulled within one point to close out the first quarter with a score of 22-21, but Team USA settled down in the second quarter, jumping out to a big lead thanks to an 11-0 run. Durant reeled in two big defensive rebounds and also made a block during that stretch that featured three pointers by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.
Durant’s 22 points came on only 13 shots, as Durant knocked down 3-of-5 three pointers and made all seven of his free throw attempts. Whether it was leaking out for fast break buckets or setting up on the wing for catch-and-shoot opportunities, Durant was poised and ready to capitalize on his offensive opportunities. For the game, Westbrook scored nine points and Harden scored five as a part of the squad that found ways to get all 12 players into the scoring column. The unselfish nature of Team USA made an extra emphasis to move the ball, racking up 27 assists on the day.
“We don’t care who scores,” Durant said. “Guys are making the right basketball plays. We have so many great passers and scorers, it doesn’t matter. I’m blessed that I’m a part of this team.”
Capping a special day and first-ever Olympic experience for Team USA was a hug from the First Lady, Michelle Obama, who was sitting courtside in London. Two days after a remarkable Opening Ceremonies, the Americans continued to soak up the incredible atmosphere of the Olympic experience. Sunday’s game was just the beginning, as Team USA has another matchup right around the corner. A matchup against Tunisia awaits on Tuesday, along with games against Pool A opponents against Nigeria and Lithuania on Thursday and Saturday.
Throughout the course of the next three weeks, Durant, Westbrook and Harden will have an opportunity to represent their country and the Thunder in Team USA’s quest to win the gold medal. Most of all, however, they’ll relish this chance of a lifetime to compete at the Olympics.
“It’s crazy, I’m just happy that I’m here,” Durant said. “I’m just trying to represent as much as I can. I’m looking forward to playing again.”
Immediately after Team USA’s victory over France, Serge Ibaka and the Spanish national team took to the court in its preliminary Olympic contest.
Spain battled China throughout a back-and-forth opening quarter, leading 19-17 after the first period. Ibaka, who scored 17 points on the day, played a big role in Spain’s 34-point second quarter when it outscored the Chinese by ten. Ibaka was a physical presence in the paint during his 20 minutes of action, pulling down five rebounds and swatting three shots.
Once he got the ball in his hands on the offensive end, he made the most of his opportunities by shooting 8-for-11 from the floor. Whether he was attacking the rim or knocking down open jumpers, Ibaka’s offensive output helped spark Spain to a 97-81 victory. In fact, all of Ibaka’s points came in the second and fourth quarters, periods in which Spain outscored China by 17 points.
The Spanish side went undefeated in exhibition play outside of a loss to the United States, and is expected to compete for the top spot in Pool B. Ibaka’s Spanish teammates Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol bolster the front line alongside the Thunder forward, and expect that their familiarity with one another as a team will serve them well in London.
"We've known each other for a long time," Gasol said to NBC’s Craig Sager. “We know how to play. We have great chemistry and we try to get better as we move along. We'll see what happens later on."