Team USA Takes Home the Gold
As the game of basketball has grown internationally over the past decades, international competition has become more and more difficult. The Spanish side, led by Pau and Marc Gasol along with the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka, put up an incredible fight and pushed the United States to the brink. With a mere four-point lead at 90-86 with 6:25 remaining, Thunder forward Kevin Durant took a pass from Chris Paul off pretty ball movement before sinking his fifth three-pointer on the day, and giving the Americans a lead that would never dip below six again.
By working the ball inside and playing physically, Spain kept the game close and even put USA on its heels on numerous occasions, particularly during a stretch in the third quarter when Ibaka knocked down two buckets en route to his 12-point, nine rebound effort. Once the United States righted itself and locked in on the defensive end in the fourth quarter, Krzyzewski’s club broke away from Spain.
“It was a very physical game,” Krzyzewski said. “Durant made some huge plays, so did Chris Paul. I thought we had a couple defensive stops and that was the separator.”
Durant led the way and scored 30 points in his typical sharp-shooting fashion, while also hauling in nine rebounds. In fact, after his three-pointer that propelled him even further ahead of the US record for most points scored in one Olympics, Spain went to a box-and-one defense against the three-time NBA scoring champion. While Durant may not have scored after that, his presence opened things up for the rest of Team USA to be successful.
“That’s the first time somebody ever played a box and one on me,” Durant said. “We have so many great players, it wasn’t about me. Everybody came in and chipped in. Chris Paul was unbelievable. Kobe (Bryant), Lebron (James), those guys did their thing in the fourth quarter. I just tried to carry the team for the first three a little bit. I saw we were down and I tried to hit some shots for us and for our team. Ultimately, defense won the game for us.”
For Durant and his Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, this has been an incredible journey to winning the Gold Medal, and one that it was clear they were relishing during the post-game celebration and medal ceremony. The joy and passion that Team USA played with throughout the past month in its Olympic journey has been a pleasure to watch, particularly for their head coach, who sees selflessness from his players every day.
“They cooperate fully,” Krzyzewski said. “Basically they’ve said to me, we’ll do anything you want me to do. We’ll not play, we’ll come off the bench, whatever you say coach, we’ll do. They’ve done that every second that I’ve coached this program for the last seven years. That level of cooperation, I don’t think people can truly appreciate it… Their attitudes are amazing.”
That sacrifice means that Westbrook, an NBA All-Star, scored three points in nine minutes of action and Harden, the NBA’s reigning sixth man of the year scored two points in the closing minutes of the game. However, both players know how critical they were as a cog in Team USA’s wheel this summer. Whether it was tough ball pressure by Westbrook or two game-icing free throws by Harden, both players found ways to impact winning. That perspective is something that James, who scored 19 points and had seven rebounds and four assists, verbalized.
“This is all about USA,” James said. “It’s about these three letters on our chests and we’re happy that we’re able to represent our country in the right way and bring home the Gold.”
Despite being rivals on the court during the regular season, these twelve men banded together as one cohesive unit, not necessarily to play perfect basketball, but to play the game the right way. Now, with their London objective complete, Durant, Westbrook and Harden can return home to Oklahoma City with a Gold medal on their necks and their teammate Ibaka brandishing the silver medal. In the end, the combination of skill, commitment and that ever-important level of respect earned that Thunder quartet some beautiful hardware and unforgettable memories.
“We all respect each other,” Durant said. “We all know it was one common goal, to win for our country. So we put everything else aside and came out here and played as a group. We got a great Gold Medal coming back home.”