Team USA Bursts Past Argentina, Spain Falls to Brazil

All four Thunder Olympians were again in action on Monday, and in both Team USA and Spain’s contests, toughness was the crucial element.

The Americans shook off a sluggish start against Argentina and amped up the defensive intensity in the third quarter, while setting the Thunder’s Kevin Durant loose from behind the arc. Durant scored 17 points in the third quarter, just as many as Argentina, as the US burst from a one-point halftime lead to a 102-76 lead heading into the fourth quarter en route to a 126-97 victory. Thunder guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden also made an impact on the contest.

Spain led by nine at the end of the third quarter against Brazil, but was outscored 31-16 in the fourth quarter by playing strong defense and knocking down open jumpers. Despite Thunder forward Serge Ibaka’s 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting, Spain fell to Brazil 88-82.

Next up for both teams is the Olympic quarterfinals, where Team USA will face Australia and Spain will match up against its border-sharing rival France. Both games will be played on Wednesday.

Team USA vs. Argentina

Needless to say, Team USA was not pleased with itself after going into the locker room leading only 60-59 against Argentina.

What transpired over the next ten minutes of action was a sight to behold, as swarming defense, activity on both ends of the court and a great display of shooting turned the game on its head. The United States forced 16 turnovers throughout the game, while making 11 steals and out-rebounding Argentina by 16. The toughness with which the US burst out of the gates to start the third quarter was palpable, and as NBC’s Doc Rivers described after the game, was the catalyst for victory.

“They had five steals in the third quarter,” Rivers, the Boston Celtics head coach said. “They just turned up their pressure… Team USA is the only team that can defend like they can. They have the athleticism, the quickness. No one else can do that, so they have the ability to just take it to a different level with their defensive pressure.”

The Americans immediately went to LeBron James in the post to start the third quarter, resulting in eight straight points. After James picked up his fourth foul moments later, Durant stepped up and went on a scintillating shooting streak. Scoring 17 points in the third quarter alone, Durant knocked down three-pointer after three-pointer, culminating in a deep jumper that seemed to come from closer to mid-court than the three point line. NBC’s color commentator and Philadelphia Sixers head coach Doug Collins was nearly at a loss for words with amazement at Durant’s scoring ability, and after the game Rivers agreed.

“This guy, you talk about an offensive package,” Collins said. “He’s incredible, (with) the range on his shot.”

“He’s so smooth,” Rivers said. “You’re thinking about a 6-foot-10 guy that shoots threes, that can take you off the dribble and that can close you out. It’s very, very difficult to stop him.”

Durant finished with 28 points on 9-for-12 shooting (8-for-10 from three), five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Westbrook had four points, three rebounds and three assists, including an earth-shattering dunk. Harden had seven points on 3-for-5 shooting.

Spain vs. Brazil

The Spanish national team got off to a smoking hot shooting start. Unfortunately for Ibaka and his teammates, it didn’t last.

Spain fell 88-82 to Brazil on Monday after being outscored 31-16 in the fourth quarter, negating nine-point advantages at the end of both the first and third quarters. Aided by Pau Gasol’s early 11 points and an efficient all-around game by Ibaka, Spain shot 9-for-12 to start the game and seemed in control throughout, until a Brazilian 8-2 run to start the fourth quarter, then an 8-0 burst marked by back-to-back Leandro Barbosa three-pointers to give Brazil its first lead, and the only lead change, of the day.

Ibaka had 14 points, six rebounds, three blocks and an assist on the day, starting out shooting 7-for-7 from the floor. With a variety of ways of putting the ball in the basket, from alley-oop dunks to turnaround jumpers, Ibaka showed offensive versatility. He also showed his prowess for blocking shots, contesting jumpers and swatting away Brazilian chances at the rim. Collins had plenty of praise for Ibaka and the way he has developed since being selected late in the first round in 2008.

“He’s an amazing athlete, drafted 24th,” Collins said. “All those high draft picks from Oklahoma City and Sam Presti gets him at 24. This young man has a brilliant future... He can shoot the ball, he’s a good mid-range shooter.”

Collins continued to say that as a part of the frontcourt rotation including Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, Ibaka is a key cog in what can be a very dangerous post-man rotation in Olympic play.

“They need Ibaka to play well,” Collins said. “I don’t know if there are three better big men you can rotate in the Olympics.”