Team USA Wins Tune-Up Against Brazil
The first quarter of Team USA’s final tune-up before heading to Europe to prepare for the Olympics was going differently than most expected.
Brazil was doing more than putting up a fight in that first frame, it was leading Team USA 17-9 with 3:57 remaining in the quarter when the Thunder’s Kevin Durant was sent to the scorer’s table by Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski to check in to the game. With a massive cheer from the crowd in Washington, DC’s Verizon Center, the Prince George's County native checked into the game alongside Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, and the duo immediately changed the game. In the pair’s first defensive possession on the floor, Durant played tough defense to help force a shot clock violation, then Westbrook made a steal on the next possession and took it back for a layup.
That quick energy burst that the Thunder pair provided didn’t immediately give Team USA the lead, but changed the tempo and pace of the game which sparked an eventual turnaround to spur Team USA to an 80-69 victory. As the first half moved forward, Team USA began to play better, as Durant drove baseline for a layup to end the first quarter and Westbrook opened the second quarter with a drive that drew a foul and earned two free throw attempts.
Westbrook’s defensive intensity continued as he made two more steals, then communicated and called out switches on multiple occasions on the same possession with Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala. While LeBron James and others on the American roster were taking care of the offensive, Durant and Westbrook continued to key in on the defensive end, where Durant’s off-ball defense prevented a completed pass and then a missed shot that Westbrook skied for and rebounded.
As Durant got more involved defensively, his offensive game started to come around as well. The offensive spark was invigorated by Durant forcing a missed three, then taking advantage of a Kobe Bryant alley oop pass with a monstrous dunk. Shortly thereafter, Durant kicked off perhaps the best-executed offensive sequence of the night by driving baseline, kicking to James who swung it to Chris Paul, who then hit Bryant in the corner for a three. It was clear at that point, Team USA was starting to click offensively as James Harden got in on the action and helped the Americans close out the half strongly.
Taking a 37-32 lead into the second half, Team USA continued to wrestle control of the game away from Brazil. Durant checked in around the seven minute mark of the third quarter, and once again played a vital part in forcing a shot clock violation in his first possession on the floor. Soon after that, Durant found himself in a one-on-one defensive situation in transition, and he acquitted himself extremely well by blocking the layup attempt.
Throughout the rest of the second half, Durant and Westbrook maintained an important role on both offense and defense. Durant knocked down a corner three pointer off a Deron Williams pass to give Team USA a 54-43 lead, then Westbrook pulled in a high-flying defensive rebound that led to a two-on-one fast break that ended in a Durant layup. That sequence was a perfect exhibition of the athletic talents and the teamwork displayed by the Thunder pair over the course of their time with Team USA thus far.
Eventually Team USA put the game out of reach, thanks to a soaring dunk off a pick-and-roll by Durant, a slick pass from Durant to Carmelo Anthony and then two saves by Westbrook off loose balls that resulted in four points. In fitting fashion Durant, the hometown kid, closed out the game with the ball in his hands after making a steal.
In the end, Durant finished with 11 points, one rebound, one block and one steal. Complementing the Thunder forward was Westbrook, who had four points, two assists, two rebounds and three steals. In addition, Harden played with great effort during his minutes on the floor.
Overall, tonight’s victory was a good lesson for Team USA as it closes its training sessions in the United States and looks ahead to its time in Europe. The team will first go to the United Kingdom and then will travel to Spain for three more exhibition games before beginning its first Olympic action. Throughout the next two weeks, Krzyzewski’s team will learn plenty more about itself and international basketball, with the Thunder’s three players featuring heavily along the way.