RIO DE JANEIRO– Kevin Durant continues to be the biggest story of this NBA off season. Durant opened himself up for a heavy dose of criticism when he left Oklahoma City to sign as a free agent with already talented filled Golden State Warriors that had won the championship in 2015 and had three other All Star players returning from a team that won 73 regular season games.
The 6-9, 27-year old All Star forward got a dose of redemption here Sunday when he went off for 24 of his 30 points in the first half as Team USA dispatched Serbia, 96-66, at Carioca Arena 1 to win its third consecutive gold medal. Durant shot 10-for-19 and made 5-of-8 three points while contributing 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in 30 minutes. He was a plus 38 for the game, finding a way to give iconic Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is retiring as coach of the senior men’s national team after leading them to three consecutive Olympic championships, the type of sendoff he deserved.
This was total domination.
The weakest of Krzyzewski’s three Olympic teams played its best game under the biggest spotlight.
“One of the officials here said to me, ‘You know, the next time you play, you ought to play with four,” USA Basketball’s managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “I said, ‘No, maybe the other teams ought to get their act together and compete.”
The 69-year old Krzyzewski will still play an active role with USA Basketball as a consultant, assisting Colangelo through the 2020 cycle in Tokyo. Veteran forward Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, who has played in four Olympics and is the first U.S. player to win three gold medals, is retiring from international competition after 12 years in the program. Anthony leaves as the career leader in scoring and rebounding in U.S. Olympic history. The crowd applauded his journey with chants of “Melo, Melo,Melo,” leaving him with tears in his eyes. .
This was supposed to be Durant’s team when Team USA started mini-camp in Las Vegas just over a month ago. But it took Durant time to be assertive in this tournament. He took only five shots against Venezuela, four shots against Serbia and six shots against France in pool play, acting more concerned with fitting in and getting other players involved instead of being a scoring machine.
Krzyzewski was concerned enough to pull out some old tapes of Durant when he was a 21-year old rising star playing for the gold medal against Turkey in the World Championships in Istanbul. Durant scored 28 points and made seven threes that day, leading a young, inexperienced team that included Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Stephen Curry to a gold medal against an enormous, internationally experienced team that included four players who were 6-10 or bigger.
“He told me, ‘I want to see that guy again,”’ Durant recalled.
Durant snapped out of his coma in the knockout rounds, averaging 23.4 points, shooting 55.6 percent and making 55 percent of his deep three pointers in Team USA’s final three games.
“Just woke up I guess,” he said.”My teammates were supporting me and cheering me along the way. Everyone was encouraging me. I just went out there and had fun with the game. While I’m smiling and screaming and beating my chest and showing emotion, that’s when I’m lost in the game. I got away from there a couple of games. When the knockout round came, I just tried to go out there and be who I am. Coaches told me to be me. I went out there and did that.”
Durant toyed with Serbia, personally destroying a good European that put a scare into the United States during a 94-91 loss in pool play. He tied his personal Olympic high of 30 points that occurred when Team USA outscored Spain, 107-100, to win the 2012 Olympic final in London.
That game had some suspense.
This one had limited drama after the first quarter.
At one point during this tournament, there was some uncertainty whether this celebration would occur. Team USA struggled with Australia, Serbia and France and only defeated Spain by six points in the semi-finals. But Team USA left no doubt who was the best team in the world in the gold medal game. Klay Thompson scored 13 points and point guard Kyrie Irving added 12. Team USA savaged Serbia on the glass, out rebounding them, 53-33, and limiting the Serbs’ explosive starting back court of Milos Teodosic and Bodgan Bagdonovich to a combined 15 points on 6-for-23 shooting.
It did have an emotional afterglow when a giddy DeAndre Jordan waded into the stands to collect an American flag he raised it high above his head. Jordan, Durant and the rest of the U.S. team draped themselves in American flags as they paraded off the court and into the locker room.
Durant is the face of Team USA going forward for the 2020 summer game. In many ways, he has become more important to the continued success of USA Basketball, given the fact LeBron James and Steph Curry– the two most recognizable names in the NBA– decided to skip Rio.
As long as I’m healthy I’m going to play,” he said.
Krzyzewski, who coached the national team to 76 straight victories and an 88-1 record in 11 years, stayed in the background while his team celebrated. He did make a point to huge Serbia coach Alexksander Dordevic and waved to his family and stood back as his players danced in a circle and point No. 1 fingers at the NBA cameras.
As for Krzyzewski, he has quietly cemented his legacy as the best international coach of all time.
“The main thing is all the memories,” Coach K said.”For me, seven of my grandchildren were here. A few of them have been to all three Olympics. What a blessing that the nights before the last three gold medal games. I get a chance to eat with my grandchildren, my wife, my daughters, for them share this. A lot of the guys, their families have shared this. So that’s what I take from it. It’s been a joy.”