Thunder Trio Helps Team USA Best Great Britain
It didn’t take long for Thunder forward Kevin Durant to get involved offensively in his first start for Team USA this summer.
Durant racked up 13-points, all in the first half, starting with a baseline drive and monster slam to start off USA’s scoring. The rest of the way, swarming ball pressure forced Great Britain into 26 turnovers and Team USA used crisp, unselfish passing to rack up 39 assists on 47 made baskets to cruise to a 118-78 victory in exhibition play on Thursday.
In the previous two tune-ups against the Domincan Republic and Brazil, Durant came off the bench along with Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden. This time, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to go with Durant and Deron Williams alongside LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tyson Chandler, bringing Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony off the bench. Krzyzewski said that some combination of those seven players will likely comprise the starting lineup moving forward.
“Durant, talent-wise is right there with any of them,” Krzyzewski said in a postgame press conference aired on nba.com. “It (the starting lineup) would be within that realm of seven players, with Tyson (Chandler) at the center spot.”
From the get-go, it was clear that Team USA’s goal was to make the correct basketball play and pass to the open teammate. Led by Westbrook’s nine assists, those 39 helpers mostly came in the drive-and-kick variety, or out in the open floor in transition. Those fast break points, which amounted to 34 on the day for Team USA, usually came off of forced turnovers and steals. Pressuring out front and pushing the tempo, Krzyzewski said, will be key as the Americans enter Olympic play.
“This is the quickest and most athletic team I’ve ever coached and we’re not big inside, so it really behooves us to do it even more,” Krzyzewski said. “We need to really pressure on the perimeter so we’re not exploited inside. We can change ends very, very fast.”
And that they did. In fact, during a sequence in the fourth quarter, Team USA scored 12 straight points on dunks, six coming from Westbrook and Harden. The layup drill resulted mostly from active hands on the defensive end, while Westbrook’s relentless energy and Harden’s patience in the half-court provided scoring opportunities.
“When we do get a rebound or turnover, it’s beautiful,” Krzyzewski said. “We had 39 assists tonight and nine turnovers. That’s sensational in any contest.”
By the end of the contest, Durant finished with two rebounds and a steal to go with his 13 points in 21 minutes. Westbrook, who seemed committed to using his athleticism and vision to get to the lane and find teammates, had 15 points, three rebounds, a steal and a block along with his nine assists in 20 minutes, and Harden had an efficient nine points, three assists, a steal and a block in 12 minutes.
The Spanish National Team was also in action on Thursday, with Thunder forward Serge Ibaka featuring prominently in an 81-75 exhibition victory over Australia.
The fourth year man who is a naturalized Spanish citizen finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and an assist while shooting 4-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the free throw line in 18 minutes of action.