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Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 27 points Saturday night as Team USA overcame a slow offensive start to log a critical 119-84 victory over the Czech Republic. The victory advanced Team USA to the knockout stage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Tatum caught fire during the fourth quarter, as he scored 17 points overall, including 14 during a five-minute stretch to open the quarter. He made six of his first seven shots during the period to push his scoring total up to 27 on the night, four ahead of teammate Kevin Durant for the game’s top mark.
Following the game, Tatum said, “It feels good to see some shots go in … Anybody that plays basketball knows that if you get to the free-throw line, see some easy ones go in, you just feel better about yourself.”
Boston’s prized young star should feel great following this performance, especially after the comment Durant made about him during a postgame interview. Durant, who during the second quarter became Team USA’s all-time leading scorer in Olympics play, said in part after the game, “This guy to the left (Tatum), I think he’s going to be the next one to break that record.”
Durant deflected attention with his humble answer, but he, too, deserves praise. He helped the Americans turn the tide in their favor during the second quarter.
The former MVP and four-time NBA scoring champ scored six of the USA’s 10 straight points midway through the frame to fuel a 39-33 lead, after which Team USA never again trailed. He also scored 10 points during the third quarter as the US pulled away for good and eventually built a 37-point lead.
Durant helped the USA to find an offensive rhythm during the second quarter after it struggled to make shots out of the gates. The USA fell behind early and trailed 25-18 at the end of the opening period while shooting a woeful 7-for-20 from the field.
Yet during the second period, the US scored 29 points – an average of nearly three per minute – while shooting 12-for-19 from the field. The Americans then shot a sizzling 12-for-13 from the field during the third quarter to build a commanding 82-60 lead.
While Tatum excelled from an individual perspective during the fourth quarter, as previously outlined, he was also a key piece of that second-quarter surge. He played all 10 minutes of the frame, scoring six points to go along with one rebound and one blocked shot. The USA outscored the Czech Republic by 10 points while he was on the floor during the first half, giving him by far the top plus/minus rating of the game heading into halftime.
Team USA’s victory was a must in order to advance to the knockout stage, which is a single-elimination tournament comprised of the top eight teams from the group stage. The Americans will next play Aug. 3 against an opponent that is to be determined.
The only opponent that the US cannot face is France, which upended Team USA during each team’s first contest at these Olympics. The Olympics features a rule that prohibits two teams from the same group from matching up during the opening round of the knockout stage.