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Kevin Durant, Team USA in desperation mode

Look to rebound from loss to France vs. Iran Wednesday

July 27, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Kevin Durant believes Team USA will get better in Wednesday morning’s preliminary round game against Iran.

The Brooklyn Nets’ superstar better be right or the U.S. men’s basketball team won’t even have a chance to earn a medal at the ongoing Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

“I don’t think it really had to do with chemistry or getting to know each other,” Durant said after Sunday’s humbling 83-76 loss to France in the opening game of the tournament.

“I just think it’s a make or miss game, and we didn’t hit the shots that we were supposed to late in the game in the fourth quarter.”

Durant wasn’t even around to make sure some of those shots went in.

The two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player had a rough start to his pursuit of a record-tying third gold medal in men’s hoops. He managed just 10 points on a dismal 4-of-12 shooting in 21 minutes before fouling out.

The defeat was Team USA’s first in 25 Olympic contests dating to 2004, and another one against Iran on Wednesday or Saturday morning vs. the Czech Republic will more than likely cause the Americans to miss the medal round.

That was hardly Durant’s goal when he left Brooklyn following a herculian effort in the Nets’ ultimately ill-fated playoff run.

The 7-foot former NBA MVP led the U.S. in scoring in each of their previous two gold medal efforts in 2012 and 2016.

Now vying for the top prize spot on the podium again, which would tie him with Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony for the most in our nation’s history, Durant can’t afford another letdown against the Iranians.

“We all had good looks, we just didn’t knock them down. A couple times we were up nine, eight (points),” he noted.

“We could have pushed the lead, but we just didn’t knock down shots. And we fouled and put them on the free-throw line and slowed the game down, too. So, if we put together some good possessions down the road, we’ll be fine.”

Newly crowned NBA champion Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks scored a team-high 18 points for the Americans, who made just 36 percent of their shots, including 31 percent (10-of-32) from 3-point range.

Evan Fournier scored a game-high 28 points for France, which relished its victory

Evan Fournier had his way with U.S. defenders Wednesday as France stunned the Americans in the opening game of the men’s basketball tournament Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics. AP Photo by Charlie Neibergall

“It’s a hell of a win. Our country is going to be extremely proud. But it’s just one game, to be honest,” said Fournier.

One game that followed two troubling exhibition losses for this U.S. team, which won’t be in Japan long if it doesn’t find a way to show off the talent that made it such a heavy favorite to come home with a fourth consecutive gold medal at these Olympics.

“When you lose a game you’re not surprised, you’re disappointed,” said Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich, who is already feeling the pressure of getting this team in gear before its too late.

“I don’t understand the word surprise – that sort of disses the French team, so to speak, as if we were supposed to beat them by 30 or something.”

Just beating them, regardless of the margin, would have been just fine.

But now Durant and his U.S. teammates are playing a potential elimination game Wednesday morning.

“I think we will be better next game,” Durant said wistfully.

If not, the newly formed Dream Team will have to take the long flight home without a medal in sight.

“Some moments it’s trying too hard to do the right thing,” said Portland guard Damian Lillard. “Instead of just being who we are, you know, the best players in the NBA.”

Best in the NBA? Sure.

Best on the international stage? That’s yet to be decided.

Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich hopes Kevin Durant and his teammates can bounce back from Sunday’s loss to France. AP Photo by Eric Gay

Wednesday’s game will tip-off at 12:40 a.m. EDT while Saturday’s scheduled contest vs. the Czech Republic is slated for 8 a.m. EDT.

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