The Quest Is Complete for Team USA

Although looking shaky at times in Olympic play, Team USA has once again reigned supreme after a dominant effort against Serbia in the gold medal game.

Serbia had a chance to tie its pool play game with the United States on August 12 but saw Bogdan Bogdanovic miss the mark on his three-point attempt at the horn.  In Sunday’s final, Bogdanovic would come up empty on all seven shots he attempted from behind the arc while Kevin Durant caught fire and finished his Olympic validation with 30 points.  The result was a 96-66 final score that, in hindsight, made Team USA’s semifinal against Spain feel like the game that determined the Olympic champion.

The Serbians sealed their fate by shooting just 17% from distance, missing some wide-open looks as the game progressed.  Durant ended the contest 5-8 on three-pointers while the Serbians hit only four as a team.   Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic knew that his team needed to minimize unforced errors to have a shot at gold, but his squad was unable to meet the challenge.

The proof: Team USA ended with 12 steals, 26 fast break points, and 30 points off turnovers.  That’s part of the reason why they led by as many as 41.

The United States also capitalized on the offensive glass at Rio’s Carioca Arena 1.  The Americans grabbed 20 of their own misses and outrebounded Serbia 54-33 overall.  DeAndre Jordan was up to his old tricks in swatting 3 Serbian shots.  DeMarcus Cousins also posed a big matchup problem.  Sacramento Kings President Vlade Divac, who is Serbian, must have had mixed feelings while he attended the game.

Nemanja Nedovic led the Serbians with 14 points and Milan Macvan also scored in double figures, but those contributions weren’t nearly enough.  Denver’s Nikola Jokic only scored 6 and Milos Teodosic didn’t rack up his usual big assist total.

As the game headed down the stretch, Jordan’s elaborate celebrations from the bench said it all.

You have to credit the Serbians for demolishing Australia in the semifinal and guaranteeing themselves no worse than a silver medal.  Still, it had to feel a little disappointing after they hung tough with the Americans in group play.

The floodgates seemed to open after Durant’s three-pointer to make it 28-17 Team USA.   He followed that with another trey before picking off a Stefan Markovic pass and finishing with a dunk on the other end.  When the dust cleared, Durant had scored 18 in the second quarter alone and the Americans led 52-29 at the half.  The United States was unwilling to sit back after halftime, forcing an early 24 second violation which set the defensive tone and nearly doubling Serbia’s third quarter point total.

Mike Krzyzewski is best known as a decorated college coach, having won five NCAA championships at Duke.  He also just took home his third Olympic gold as head coach.

While Coach K is retiring from future Olympic involvement, he has helped return Team USA to its current success.  He has also cultivated friendships with international players, including Teodosic.  Paul George summarized Coach K’s contributions by saying, “He’s the reason guys want to come here and get better.”

Krzyzewski was emphatic in praising his captain Carmelo Anthony:

“In this Olympics he has not only been a really good player, he has been an outstanding leader.”

The gold medal ceremony was a fitting end to a fine international coaching run.

One wonders whether Durant’s big Olympics has earned him any goodwill from American fans who were disappointed that he signed with the Warriors.  Despite the short three-point line, Durant was draining threes well behind the arc from all over the court.  He made 54% of them for the tournament to go with 58% from the field and finished his time in Rio with a bang.

Every American player had at least one field goal in Sunday’s finale which exemplified the team’s “all for one, one for all” attitude.  Nevertheless, Durant’s 19.4 points per game put him well ahead of Anthony’s for first on the squad.

In Durant’s words, “I know if I go out there and be who I am, the outcome will dictate itself.” 

Discussing Team USA’s performance feels a little like dissecting the Shaq-era Lakers.  Those teams were sometimes accused of coasting during the regular season and flipping a switch once the postseason came around.  For instance, the Americans held Serbia to 38% shooting in the gold medal matchup compared to 52% on August 12.

In their first encounter, Klay Thompson couldn’t find his stroke and shot 1-6 from the floor.  By contrast, he converted 5-11 for 12 points when it mattered most.  Did he finally adjust to the Molten ball or simply find a way out of a shooting slump?  Either way, Thompson’s teammates were happy to see him in the middle of the action.

The big victory brought out a lot of American pride.  Even Steph Curry, who was unable to participate due to injury, praised the team’s hard work in a postgame tweet.

It required dedication to train, participate in exhibitions, travel to Brazil, and come home with the gold even when you are the heavy favorites.  It was sometimes a bumpy ride, but there was no denying the Americans’ talent in the end.

Anthony spoke for everyone in saying: “This is what it’s about.  Representing your country on the biggest stage that you can be on.”

 

photo via llananba