Team USA, Spain Advance to Gold Medal Game

Second half surges dictated the fates of both Team USA and Spain on Friday, springing both clubs to Sunday’s Olympic Gold Medal game.

The Americans outscored Argentina 62-43 in the second half behind three-point barrages from the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, breaking open an Argentinian-paced affair. Eventually, USA’s athleticism and shooting ability wore down Argentina, leading to a 109-83 victory for Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad. The Spaniards turned around a dismal shooting effort in the first half of its game against Russia, also outscoring its opponents by 19 in the second half en route to a 67-59 victory.

The two victories sets up the much-anticipated Gold Medal matchup between the United States and Spain, where the USA’s Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Spain’s Serge Ibaka will all represent the Thunder. Speaking with NBC’s Craig Sager after the game, Team USA’s Kobe Bryant previewed the showdown.

“Marc (Gasol) has really improved leaps and bounds since the last time we saw them (Spain),” Bryant said. “Then obviously they have Serge Ibaka who is a fabulous defensive player. So, they have some things we’ll have to adjust to.”

Team USA vs. Argentina

For the second time this week, the third quarter was good to Kevin Durant and Team USA against Argentina.

The Thunder sharpshooter and three-time NBA leading scorer erupted for 12 of his game-high 19 points during the third quarter on four three-pointers, helping Team USA outscore Australia by 10 on its way to a 109-83 victory. It was one of many spectacular scoring efforts for the Americans on Friday, as one of the quartet of Bryant, LeBron James, Durant and Carmelo Anthony scored in double figures in each of the game’s four quarters.

“Words can’t describe how good it is to play with so many great players, team first guys and guys that want to sacrifice and pass the ball,” Durant said to Sager. “It’s working well together. We just have to continue to keep playing. We have one more game to try to win.”

Durant, who also had four rebounds, two blocks and a steal, shot 7-for-14 from the field, including 5-for-10 from the three point line on the day. By utilizing proper technique and accuracy on his spot-up jumper, Durant continued his run of impressive outside shooting during the course of these Olympic games. Whether it was trailing on the secondary break and stepping into shots, taking diagonal passes off drive-and-dishes or relocating after offensive rebounds, Durant gave himself room to knock down open jumpers. That effort, along with his ability and physical gifts, earned NBC commentator and Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins’ awe.

“How quick is his release?” Collins asked. “And how easy does he make those long jump shots look?”

Collins also had praise for Westbrook, whose ball-pressure and energy on the defensive end forced both a shot-clock violation and a back-court violation by Argentina. In addition, Westbrook used his quickness to slink to the rim for a nifty finger roll layup, then knocked down a three-pointer and one of his patented mid-range pull-up jumpers.

“When he hits that shot, he’s indefensible,” Collins said. “Then he gets to the rim, gets up on top of the basket. He’s going to score or you’re going to foul him.”

Westbrook finished with seven points in the game on 3-for-4 shooting, while Harden had three points, a steal and a blocked shot.

After running the table thus far in the Olympic games, Team USA has one test remaining in order to earn its Gold Medals. Throughout the last few weeks, the Americans have learned more and more about the ins-and-outs of international basketball. That knowledge and experience comes at the perfect time, with the imposing and veteran Spanish team waiting for the USA on Sunday. Heading into the Gold Medal game, Durant and his teammates are prepared for the task at hand.

“It’s a physical game,” Durant said. “Those guys are big inside. They move the ball well and have been playing together for a long time. I think our chemistry has grown over the past couple weeks. We’re looking forward to going out there and enjoying ourselves.”

Spain vs. Russia

For the Spanish National Team, it was a tale of two halves.

In the first quarter, Russia held Spain to only nine points, and the Spanish side trailed 31-20 at halftime while shooting only 20.7 percent from the field. In the second half, the shots began to fall and Spain erupted for 47 points over the final 20 minutes compared to only 28 for Russia. Behind 7-for-13 shooting in the second half from behind the three-point arc, Spain’s guards complemented big men Pau and Marc Gasol, leading Spain to a 67-59 victory, and a spot in Sunday’s Gold Medal game.

“We just had to trust ourselves and keep working,” Gasol said of the team’s attitude at halftime. “We were so tight, and that wasn’t allowing us to play fluidly. There was a change. At halftime we said, let’s go out and just compete, just play our game, take our shot.”

Ibaka had a solid stretch in the game, playing seven minutes while notching two points and two rebounds. Ibaka hustled during his time on the floor, scoring after tracking down a loose ball on defense, then following up the play in transition to hit a layup through contact. NBC commentator and Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins mentioned Ibaka’s status within team Spain multiple times throughout the contest.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Collins said. “You think of Oklahoma City, and he’s a big part of the success they had.”