Despite fighting off foul trouble, Zach LaVine scored 10 points, two assists, zero turnovers, and was impactful defensive as Team USA defeated Spain 95-81 to advance the the semifinal round of Olympic play. The Americans will play the winner of Argentina/Australia for an opportunity to play for a gold medal.
USA Basketball has begun to show some mettle in Tokyo. And now Zach LaVine and the USA team are about halfway to that desired gold medal.
LaVine with 10 points, including seven in a pivotal second quarter when the USA team overcame a double-digit deficit, was one of seven USA players to score in double figures in a rugged 95-81 victory over No. 2 world ranked Spain.
The U.S. team Thursday will face the winner of Argentina/Australia in the semifinals for an opportunity to play Saturday in the Olympic gold medal game.
LaVine fighting off foul trouble that left him sitting much of the fourth quarter had those 10 points with a pair of assists and again zero turnovers in 21 minutes. LaVine made two of five three pointers. LaVine still leads the USA team in three-point shooting among those with more than one attempt per game at 50 percent. He's shooting a team-best among the perimeter players at 57.7 percent overall, leads the team in assists and he's fourth best in team plus/minus rating. He's fifth in minutes per game playing off the bench.
LaVine also had a steal and his defense on Marc Gasol in the third quarter was in a vital stretch when the USA team broke from a halftime tie to take a 16-point lead and despite a few Spain surges remain ahead the rest of the game. LaVine's fronting of Marc Gasol helped cause a turnover that led to a fast break USA score. Kevin Durant, who led the USA team with 29 points, then passed to LaVine for an open corner three and 63-49 USA lead.
Zach LaVine skies for a dunk as Spain's Alex Abrines looks on.
The margin seemed to help change the effective early Spain strategy that had them dominating on the boards, 25-12 in the first half with six blocks. That contributed to a 21-19 Spain lead in the first quarter and 39-29 midway through the second. LaVine had seven of his 10 points in the second quarter as the USA rallied late to tie the game at 43 at halftime.
Durant credited that run and third quarter defense as the turning points for the USA team.
"We found our identity," Durant said. "It was huge to tie it up at halftime and then we hit them in the mouth in the third quarter."
All pretty much but Ricky Rubio, the supposedly notoriously poor shooter who again like in an exhibition last month in Las Vegas looked more like Steph Curry. Rubio made 13 of 20 shots for 38 points with LaVine probably most effective against him when Rubio was scoreless in the second quarter.
But the new Cleveland Cavaliers guard didn't have much help, especially with Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol not playing much in the second half after physically dominating the smaller USA team in the first-half and adding flawless execution for multiple open layups.
The U.S. team, settling for three-point shots early, missed 10 of its first 12 attempts and was four of 17 on open threes in the first half. Their 14-4 run to close the second quarter with LaVine adding a driving baseline dunk in the waning seconds seemed to both invigorate the USA team and lure Spain into playing faster and smaller.
Spain did finish with a 42-32 rebounding advantage with seven blocks to one for the U.S. But the U.S. team forced 14 steals at their more comfortable quicker pace and finished shooting 41 percent on threes. Plus, after settling again for isolations instead of seeking out hot shooters or finding guys with mismatches, the USA moved the ball better after halftime and sought more drive and kick threes and layup attempts in a more well rounded effort.
Devin Booker added 17 points followed by Jason Tatum and Jrue Holiday with 14 each, Damian Lillard with 13 and Bam Adebayo with 12. Though Rubio also had another highlight blocking an Adebayo open dunk attempt. Who was that bearded man?
Spain is now out of medal contention in an unusual early round contest matching the reigning Olympic champion USA team and reigning World Cup champion Spain, the USA ranked No. 1 coming into the tournament and Spain No. 2. Slovenia with Luka Doncic thus far has been the most dominant team in the tournament.
The U.S. now is 17-2 against Spain in Olympic or World Cup competition. The Americans won 82-76 in the 2016 Olympic semifinals, 107-100 in the 2012 gold medal game at London and 118-107 in the gold medal game in Beijing in 2008. The USA team now is 3-1 after losing its opening Group game to France. France plays Italy Tuesday morning and the winner faced Slovenia Thursday in the opposite semifinal to the USA game against the Argentina/Australia winner.