Kevin Durant pushes Team USA into semis
Nets superstar leads Americans vs. Aussies on Thursday
Kevin Durant refused to let Team USA lose Tuesday in Japan.
That’s why the Brooklyn Nets superstar’s goal of capturing a record-tying third Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball continues Thursday morning against Australia in the semifinal round.
Durant, who already owns a pair of NBA titles and two Finals MVPs to boot, helped erase a 10-point, first-half deficit vs. Spain in the quarterfinals, finishing with a tournament-high 29 points in the U.S.’s 95-81 triumph.
“We’ve got to finish it,” said Durant, the all-time leading scorer in Olympic men’s basketball history.
“We’re supposed to be here. For us it’s about getting the gold.”
It was just about survival last Thursday, when Durant scored 23 points to get Team USA into the medal round with a 119-84 rout of the Czech Republic.
Against Spain, the former NBA MVP and Brooklyn’s top scorer during the league’s recently completed postseason hit 10-of-17 shots, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
He also sparked a 14-4 run to close the opening half that got the Americans back into the fight before drilling a pair of early 3-pointers following intermission to spearhead a decisive 22-6 burst.
The win was Team USA’s third in a row since a stunning tournament-opening loss to France the weekend before last that put Durant’s dreams of catching Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony’s record of three gold medals in jeapordy.
But Durant, known as one of the most willful and smartest players in the game, saved his best for when the Americans needed it the most.
He also had four assists, two rebounds, a pair of steals and a blocked shot in a team-high 31 minutes, drawing the rest of his teammates nearer to the top of the podium.
“We’re in a good spot right now,” said Durant. “Guys are starting to understand their roles and just get more comfortable within the team.”
Boston’s Jayson Tatum scored 13 points and newly crowned NBA champion Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks added 12 as Team USA averted elimination and set itself up for Thursday’s early morning tilt vs. Australia, which slaughtered Argentina, 97-59, in its quarterfinal.
“The further you move in the tournament, the more difficult it gets. That’s pretty obvious,” said Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich.
Not if Durant can help it.
Since opening the tourney with a pair of subpar performances which netted him 20 total points, the 7-foot forward is clicking on all cylinders as the showdown vs. the Aussies approaches.
“In this setting, it’s always hard to get your footing as an individual player, because you don’t want to step on toes,” he noted of his slow start to the Olympics.
“You are coming in and out of the game, you’re not getting as many minutes getting them in the shot. So, I love how we stuck with it throughout this whole period of time and guys started to figure out what we needed to do.”
If they can get past Australia Thursday morning, the Americans will square off against either Slovenia or France on Friday night.
Knowing Durant and the rest of this very talented squad, they’d like nothing better than to avenge Team USA’s lone loss in the past 27 Olympic games against the French this weekend.
But first, they have to defeat an Australian team that has medal aspirations of its own.
“The game is about buckets, so when you see the ball go in the rim, everybody gets more energy – coaches, players, trainers, everybody gets more energy when the ball goes in the rim,” Durant noted.
“So you start making shots and make some 3s and guys calm down.”
NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets filled the coaching vacancy left by assistant Mike D’Antoni last week, adding veteran Brian Keefe to Steve Nash’s staff for the 2021-22 season. Keefe joins the Nets after serving as an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2019-20 season, his second stint with the franchise. He previously spent time as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers (2016-19) and New York Knicks (2014-16), as well as a seven-year stay (2007-14) with the Thunder as both a player development coach and assistant coach, beginning with the franchise’s final season in Seattle (2007-08). Earlier this summer, the Nets hired David Vanderpool to replace assistant Ime Udoka, who left Brooklyn to become head coach of the Celtics in Boston.