Team USA saved its best for last in a 96-66 takedown of Serbia, capturing the Olympic basketball gold medal for a third consecutive time. The finale in Rio punctuated an uneven Olympic run, but they’ll leave happy knowing they took care of business.
Duplicating his standout performance in the 2012 gold medal game, Kevin Durant powered Team USA to the victory with a game-high 30 points, providing a preview of what it might be like to watch him play for the Golden State Warriors this season. Durant has thrived under the bright lights of the international stage, so enjoy all your "Warriors gave up a 3-1 lead in the Finals" jokes while you still can.
It was Durant’s show, but the supporting cast deserves a lot of credit for building the platform from which he worked. The bench mob for Team USA, headlined by Paul George and Kyle Lowry, gave the Americans a needed edge in this game and throughout the tournament. George’s presence was always notable in Rio; his length and athleticism gave Team USA a defensive toughness they otherwise lacked.
Team USA might have struggled to win without that spark off the bench. Early in the first half, they let the offense devolve into stagnant, isolation basketball far too often, prompting Mike Krzyzewski to sub out the full lineup sans Durant. With a more balanced lineup on the floor comprised of Lowry, George, Jimmy Butler, Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, Team USA created separation from Serbia and never looked back.
Coach K didn’t exactly drape himself in glory in his final run as Team USA’s coach, and the right rotational mix might have let loose the Americans prior to the gold medal game. Still, it’s hard to be overly critical of a coach and team that peaked as the tournament closed.
The next era for USA Basketball is on the horizon. Only two members of the 2012 gold medal team returned for Rio, and the program will be turned over to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after these Olympics. The future is uncertain and the international pool continues to improve every year, but for now Team USA can feel safe in their spot at the top of world basketball.
3 things we learned
We might be underselling Durant on the Warriors
Durant’s signing with the Warriors was the biggest news of the offseason, and it still might not have been talked about enough.
The focal point of the 73-win Warriors and back-to-back MVP didn’t join his brethren in Rio, but Stephen Curry has to be sitting at home salivating at the prospect of playing alongside Durant. Between Curry’s absurd off-the-dribble shooting and Durant’s limitless range, the Warriors are going to give opponents fits. How do you guard a team that can shoot from almost anywhere on the court?
Flocked by top-tier athletes and defenders on Team USA, Durant was able to focus on getting buckets. The Warriors aren’t quite an Olympic team, but if this version of Durant is headed to Golden State, best of luck to the other 29 NBA teams playing for second place.
Paul George was Team USA’s MVP
Nobody made a bigger statement in this tournament than George. His box score numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but he was a shape-shifter, filling whatever role Team USA needed at a given moment.
George’s presence in the lineup had a domino effect on the rest of the team. The Americans moved the ball better and defended well when he was in the lineup, which is no surprise given his skill set. George proved integral to Team USA’s best lineups because they didn’t have to sacrifice floor-spacing to bolster the defense.
Team USA is viewed in some respects as an All-Star team, but even All-Star teams settle into a pecking order. George was adept at switching from lead attacker to glue guy, and was the catalyst for his team’s greatest success.
Gregg Popovich is taking over at the right time
Team USA accomplished exactly what everyone in the world expected them to do entering the tournament. But it didn’t exactly look pretty, and a shakeup at the helm of USA Basketball couldn’t come at a better time.
There were numerous problems with this edition of the men’s basketball team, from the initial selection to the confusing rotations implemented by Coach K. Given the talent advantage Team USA has on any team they face, just squeaking out wins isn’t enough on the international stage. For all that Coach K accomplished, it’s probably time for someone else to take the reins and liven up the program.
Nobody is better equipped for this task than Popovich. He is perhaps the only coach who demands the same respect as the players he’ll be in charge of, and some of the accountability problems that have plagued Team USA won’t wash under his watch.