TOKYO — The United States men’s basketball team has a roster that somehow lacks both big men who can consistently rebound and perimeter players who can consistently hit threes. It can make for some long draughts and nerve-racking moments.
Durant poured in 29 critical points to lead the Americans to a come-from-behind 95-81 victory over Spain in a quarterfinal match-up here Tuesday. It follows a 23-point effort in a victory against the Czech Republic at the end of Group play.
The victory pushes the U.S. to a semifinal match-up Thursday against either Australia or Argentina. The U.S. has medaled in all 18 Olympics it appeared in and taken gold in 15 of them.
“We are playing for a lot of people back at home and a lot of people around the world who support us,” Durant said on NBC. “Guys are laying it out on the line to win this. Guys are going to do whatever we need to win.”
Durant’s heroics were needed to offset a brilliant effort by Spain’s Ricky Rubio, who was nearly unstoppable and scored 38. Rubio hit 13 of 20 shots, consistently got to wherever he wanted on the court. Olympic-games are just 40 minutes long.
Jason Tatum added 13, Jrue Holiday 12 and Damian Lillard 11 for the US.
Mainly though, this was the KD show. He hit 10 of 17 shots, dished four assists. He scored in the post and the perimeter, out on the break and by driving the lane. Spain had no way to stop him.
In the first half he shot 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) from the field. The rest of the team went 18 of 46 (.391). If not for Durant, this one could have been over early.
This team will never rank among the best teams the United States has sent here. Too many opt-outs due to Covid protocols and a quirky NBA calendar. Too much roster flux with late changes and even later arrivals (three players arrived from the NBA Finals on the day of the Olympic opener). Odd roster decisions — Trae Young couldn’t help?
Yet when Durant gets going, they are the team to beat here. Nearly unguardable at 7-feet tall and playing with admirable and contagious defensive intensity, the captain is the leader.
He creates so many match-up problems that the game can come easy for everyone else. He dove for so many loose balls that no one else could lack intensity. He cheered and pumped his fist so often while get a breather on the bench no one else could lack passion.
Every bit of it was needed after the United States struggled in the first half. They went 4 of 17 from behind the arc and were being outrebounded by 11. Durant heated up just before the break though to send the Americans into the half tied at 43.
The Americans then stepped up in every way and started the third on a decisive 22-6 run that put Spain on its heels.
“We came out in that third and hit them in the mouth and took control of the game,” Durant said.
Spain, whose roster is full of NBA or former NBA players, arrived as the second-ranked team in the world, trailing just the US. It had been eliminated by the Americans in the last three Olympics and played an inspired game, with ball movement and rebounding. It’s a veteran crew.
They had the US on the ropes in the first half, but when you have Kevin Durant, you can take a few punches.
The Americans have him. No one else does.