All Four Thunder Players Shine in USA-Spain Exhibition

Serge Ibaka and Spain struck first, but Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden helped Team USA swing back.
As if taking turns, each of the four Thunder players shined in Team USA’s 100-78 victory over Spain on Tuesday in Barcelona. Led by Ibaka, who scored 12 of his team’s 20 first points off of dunks, jumpers and hook shots, the Spanish National Team jumped out to an early 21- 13 lead. Whether it was slick passing from the guards or effective spacing between himself and Pau Gasol, Ibaka was getting clean looks around the rim. When he was pushed further out he did damage as well, putting Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Team USA squad on edge.

“Ibaka, he’s a terrific player,” Krzyzewski said. “He had an amazing first half.”

However, thanks to Carmelo Anthony’s outside shot and a driving floater by Westbrook that ended the first quarter and capped an 8-1 run, Team USA got back into the ball game. Anthony scored 23 of his 27 points in the first half and truly buoyed the Americans as they outscored Spain by 10 in the second quarter then began to run away with the game in the second half.

Once that third quarter began, it was Kevin Durant’s time to take over. The three-time NBA scoring champion scored ten points in the period, including the first five by either team. Durant followed up his three pointer and transition layup with a slick assist to a back-cutting LeBron James, then knocked down another three pointer before making a quick cut to the bucket to slam home a Chris Paul pass.

“You have to be aware of their quickness and outside shooting,” Gasol said. “Carmelo had a big time first half, then LeBron picked it up in the second half. Obviously you have KD also there. They’re loaded, so that’s why you have to be alert at all times.”

The big contributor to Durant’s and Team USA’s third quarter success was efficient and effective floor spacing and ball movement, which eventually helped build a 22-point winning margin. When things began to get close again late in the third quarter, Westbrook had his moment by reeling off seven straight points for Team USA. Back-to-back midrange jumpers plus a free throw started the burst, then Westbrook continued to show the defensive ferocity that has been on display all summer to make a steal and slam dunk. Finally, Harden capped off the game by scoring the final six points, on consecutive three pointers that came from some sharp, crisp passing.

“We shared the ball well in the second half,” Krzyzewski said. “We were very pleased with the win and we know what an outstanding team Spain is.”

While the result wasn’t as close as many expected, Spain center Marc Gasol was not in action, and it was just an exhibition game helping both sides prepare for the London Olympics. Anthony said after the game that a potential rematch with Spain in the medal rounds in August might end up looking quite different, but with both sides’ focus and intensity staying the same.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll sit there and watch this game and learn from this game,” Anthony said of Spain’s squad. “We’re not expecting anything different than the game tonight. It’ll be a hard fought game. It’ll be a lot harder next time in London.”

Spain will next play Pool B games against Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain and Russia. As for the United States, Krzyzewski feels the Thunder-laden squad can also develop and grow more as the next few weeks roll by. With group play games against Argentina, France, Lithuania, Nigeria and Tunisia, Team USA will have an opportunity to both qualify for the medal rounds in addition to improving as a unit.

“I think we’ve gotten better,” Krzyzewski said. “I think we need to use pool play, first of all to qualify for medal play, but also I think to get five more international games under our belt. I thought we reacted better tonight than two nights ago to the international game, and we have to keep learning about it.”