SAITAMA, Japan — There have been 13 seconds left on the clock when Kevin Durant discovered himself gliding to the basket with nobody round him.
He ascended easily to the rim and dunked the ball with two arms. When the buzzer sounded moments later, Draymond Inexperienced jogged over to Durant, grabbed his hand and thumped his chest. It appeared like a gesture of each celebration and appreciation.
Having probably the most full scorers within the universe in your basketball workforce has its benefits.
That may be a lesson Inexperienced and his United States teammates had been blissful to study on Tuesday afternoon — a luxurious they’ve wanted to use over these previous couple weeks — as Durant took management of their do-or-die Olympic quarterfinal matchup in opposition to Spain, scoring 29 factors to steer the People to an initially nervy, however in the end snug, 95-81 win.
“Kevin Durant was nice,” Inexperienced stated. “He was who we want him to be. He confirmed why he’s arguably the best participant on the earth.”
The win despatched the US to the semifinals of the boys’s event, the place they may meet the winner of a contest between Argentina and Australia.
Because the begin of their preparations for the Video games, the American gamers have spoken overtly about the truth that they’re nonetheless studying to play collectively as a gaggle, quite than merely an assemblage of particular person stars. They lost two exhibition games earlier than leaving house after which began their Olympic marketing campaign with a defeat against France.
The great factor, Inexperienced stated, is that they proceed to enhance. The one unhealthy factor, he stated, is that there’s not a lot time remaining for them to determine it out.
“I believe the potential of this workforce is limitless,” Inexperienced stated. “Sadly we’ve obtained two video games left, so we want to verify we’re persevering with to get higher every time we step on the ground. I believe that’s what we’ve achieved.”
Nevertheless a lot they enhance, nonetheless many query marks stay, they’ve the last word insurance coverage plan in Durant, who proved once more on Tuesday that he can undo the shackles of even probably the most rigorously drilled defenses on the earth.
The US obtained off to a sluggish begin, settling for out of doors photographs, and failing to make them, as Spain constructed a 10-point lead late within the second quarter. The People shot solely 38 p.c from the sector within the first half, making solely 4 of 17 makes an attempt from 3-point vary.
However Durant and his teammates obtained extra aggressive earlier than the halftime break. They labored the ball inside, unsettling the Spanish protection, and completed the quarter on a 14-4 run. That despatched the groups to the locker rooms tied at 43-43.
“If we drive it to the paint, there’s going to be two or three guys converging, then we will get the three,” Durant stated. “If we come out simply chucking 3s up early, if we’re not hitting them, it’s going to look unhealthy.”
As Durant obtained sizzling from 3-point vary within the third, the People took management of the sport and by no means let go. Durant completed the sport 10 for 17 from the sector, together with 4 for 7 from 3-point vary.
Afterward, Durant stated he was nonetheless simply getting snug together with his position. His remaining opponents could also be watching warily to see how snug he will get.
“On this setting, it’s all the time onerous to get your footing as a person participant since you don’t need to step on toes, you’re coming out and in of the sport, you’re not enjoying as many minutes, getting as many photographs,” Durant stated. “However I really like how we’ve caught with it by way of this entire time period, and guys are beginning to determine what to do.”
The Spanish, larger and higher drilled, used their measurement as a bonus each time they might. They received the rebounding battle, 42-32, and cashed in on a number of second-chance alternatives across the basket.
Ricky Rubio was their foremost instigator on offense, main all scorers with 38 factors.
Requested in regards to the significance of Durant, U.S. Coach Gregg Popovich drew a comparability to Rubio’s position within the Spanish workforce.
“They’re each nice gamers, and so they’re each onerous to cease,” Popovich stated, earlier than including about Durant: “In these video games, each workforce has individuals like that, that they rely on to come back by way of, and he definitely did.”
A gold medal run would put an exclamation mark on a protracted season for Durant, who missed all the 2019-2020 N.B.A. season after tearing his proper Achilles’ tendon. He returned to the Nets this season and averaged 34.2 factors throughout their 12-game postseason run.
“Kevin is a rhythm participant, and determining the rhythm and stream is vital,” Inexperienced stated. “We’ve obtained that discovered now, and we allowed him to do what he’s nice at, and he was nice.”
The absence from the US workforce (and the Olympic event) of a few of the sport’s greatest stars — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden — has sharpened the highlight on Durant. However he appears to be taking it in stride, asserting his identification in more and more vital methods, at the same time as he appeared to take little pleasure on Tuesday in advancing to the semifinals.
“We’re speculated to be right here,” Durant stated. “For us it’s about getting a gold.”