It was a tremendous performance from Kevin Durant with some history thrown in as KD led Team USA to the knockout stage at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Team USA defeated the Czech Republic, 119-84, on Saturday to advance to the quarterfinals behind hot shooting and forceful defense, both of which were supplied by Durant. The victory puts the U.S. at 2-1 in Group A play, which translated to a punched ticket to the quarterfinals.
While Jayson Tatum may have led the way with his best shooting performance of the Olympics — 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 from three in 24 minutes off the bench, the night belonged to Durant.
Durant entered the game edging Carmelo Anthony’s record as the all-time leading scorer in U.S. men’s Olympic basketball history and he got the job done early. The Nets superstar put his name into the history books by scoring the record-setting bucket off a trademark pull-up three. He now has 354 career Olympic points.
It’s official: Kevin Durant has passed Carmelo Anthony and becomes Team USA's all-time leading scorer— Chris Milholen (@CMilholenSB) July 31, 2021
Incredible honor and congrats to KD. pic.twitter.com/ENH7EZthWS
“You just think about all the players that have played in this program,” Durant said. “It’s pretty cool to be amongst names like that. Carmelo is a guy that I played on two Olympic teams with, and I’ve seen his approach to these games and I’ve tried to steal some of his techniques.
“It’s still pretty weird for me to do stuff like this because I play a team sport, and I try my hardest to make it about the group. But it is special to do something like that. Scoring is something I’ve worked on my whole career and expanded my whole career. To consistently do it is pretty cool.”
The record-setting right-wing three was part of a dominant comeback in the third quarter, led by Durant with 10 points and four assists in the frame. The 32-year-old concluded his historical night with 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 4-of-7 shooting from three, to go with a team-high eight rebounds and a team-high six assists in 28 minutes.
Clearly, Durant’s offensive performance shone bright in the victory, but his play on the defensive end had identical value. Durant held down the fort down low, defending the Czech big men, swatting shots under the basket, and utilizing his length and agility to creep out to the 3-point line to block shots. His efforts on the defensive end were a catalyst to Team USA’s squeezing out 15 turnovers.
“Our defense did a really good job of picking up and getting to the ball, and then being able to rebound,” Jrue Holiday said. “First quarter they were throwing it into the paint, throwing it into the bigs and doing whatever they wanted to. I think for us that’s just attention to detail, trying to front that post, trying to make it hard for them.”
The U.S finished with five players in double-figures and shot 61.6 percent (45-of-73) from the field and 47.6 percent (20-of-42) from deep in the victory.
The Czech’s were led by Blake Schilb with 17 points, five rebounds and one assist in 31 minutes of play followed by Ondrej Balvin with 15 points in 32 minutes. Chicago Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky finished with 12 points, eight assists, and six rebounds.
With their ticket punched to the quarterfinals, Team USA will either play Italy or the loser of Slovenia and Spain in the quarterfinals. The Americans’ 82-point differential across their three pool games means the team will most likely will be the top second-place group finisher and enter the quarterfinals in Pot D with the three group winners.
“We were behind the eight ball in the beginning, and we’re making some fast progress. We still have a lot of improvement that we must and can make,” Gregg Popovich said. “I think the losses in the beginning put a laser focus on how you have to play with these rules, in this environment against these talented teams who execute wonderfully. If you don’t have respect for your opponents, you’re going to be in big trouble. We learned that the hard way.
“I think our guys have done a good job gaining ground day by day, practice by practice, and hopefully we’ll continue that as we move forward. And we have to if we want to be successful.”
- U.S. Men Conclude Group Play with 119-84 Win Over Czech Republic - Alex Monnig - USA Basketball
- Kevin Durant becomes Team USA’s all-time leading scorer in knockout-round clincher - Ryan Dunleavy - New York Post
- Durant sets record, example for US Olympic men’s hoops team - Brian Mahoney - AP