The USA Men's Olympic Basketball team was scheduled to fly to Tokyo Monday for the start of this weekend's Olympic Games.
Zach LaVine took off a bit sooner.
The Bulls high flying, high scoring guard Sunday again was on the end of the highlight play of the game, a two-handed lob dunk slam on a pass from Kevin Durant to help close out the USA's 83-76 exhibition game victory over second ranked Spain.
The USA team thus concludes their warmup for the Games with a pair of wins to finish 2-2 after the halting start and losses to Nigeria and Australia.
LaVine finished with 13 points, all in the second half with the USA trailing most of the first half. Damian Lillard led the USA team with 19 points followed by new addition Keldon Johnson with 15 and Kevin Durant with 14.
"I think we came in saying we were a group of talented individuals and we were working towards becoming a team, and I think we've gotten better each game since we've been in Vegas," said Lillard. "Tonight in the finale, I think we looked how we want to look getting ready to go to Tokyo tomorrow. We looked like Team USA. Our third game we played well and got a win, and then coming out tonight against a really good team, continuing to trend in the right direction. I thought it was a great performance by us."
Zach LaVine scored 13 points in Team USA's final exhibition game before they head to Tokyo.
They were the only USA players to score in double figures. LaVine averaged 10.7 points, third on the USA team, in the four exhibition games. He started again Sunday and played primarily as the lead guard to initiate the offense. LaVine had two assists and one turnover and made three of five threes. After starting one of 12 on threes, the USA team with LaVine the only player making more than half his threes finished 12 of 36 on threes.
But it was LaVine's athletic flights of fancy that got the Las Vegas crowd on its feet, LaVine crossing over on a drive and finishing with a two-hand dunk with the USA pulling away for a 76-61 lead after trailing by two at halftime. And then it was LaVine sprinting full court after Lillard took the ball from NBA veteran Ricky Rubio and threw ahead to Durant. Durant took a few dribbles down the right side and saw LaVine taking off down the left lane. Durant threw the ball high for LaVine to catch it and ram it into the basket for a 15-point USA lead with just under three minutes left in the game.
"We've got to use our athleticism and our speed to our advantage," said Jayson Tatum about plays like LaVine's. "On the defensive end, get stops, and we got to go. We got to push it. You got so many guys that can bring the ball up, make plays, make shots."
Zach LaVine finishes an alley-oop from Kevin Durant against Spain
Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves led Spain with 23 points (sign and trade anyone?). The highlight, perhaps, for Spain was getting eight points in 16 minutes from center Paul Gasol, the one time Bulls All-Star returning after two years away from basketball with foot surgeries. Gasol seemed smooth with several credible post moves, though LaVine bothered him once onto a close miss. Pau substituted for brother Marc Gasol, who started for Spain.
The USA plays a switching defensive scheme, which the taller Spain players exploited early on mismatches. It could be an issue for the smaller USA team, though with the departures of Bradley Beal (Covid) and Kevin Love, the team added center JaVale McGee along with Johnson from the Select Team. Once the Finals are concluded this week, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton from the Bucks and Devin Booker from the Suns will join the USA team in Japan.
USA Basketball plays its first game early Sunday morning (U.S. time) against France July 25.
LaVine started again for the USA team with Beal's departure and primarily was a facilitator in the first half. The USA team still seeking continuity after the two early losses made four of its first six shots and then missed 12 of 15 to fall behind 18-14 after one quarter and 38-36 at halftime. The shots began falling in a 21-8 USA spurt to close the third quarter with a 57-50 USA lead, and then getting the engines starting up for LaVine's runway takeoffs. Next stop Tokyo.