After a series of unnecessarily close games, the United States Men's Basketball Team (8-0) finally played to its potential, defeating Serbia, 96-66, in a blowout Sunday at Carioca Arena in Rio de Janeiro to capture a third straight gold medal and maintain its position as the best basketball country in the world.
The USA held Serbia to 38.2 percent from the field (26-68 FGs), and converted 18 Serbian turnovers into 26 points. The Americans also recorded 30 fast break points.
Led by 30 points and four assists from two-time Olympic gold medalist Kevin Durant, the U.S. dominated on both ends of the court to outscore Serbia (4-4) 33-14 in the decisive second quarter.
“It was just an amazing time,” Durant said. “We got together July 17, and we all set our minds on wearing one of these gold medals. That was our main focus – Carmelo (Anthony) being our leader and me kind of following up.”
Leading by four-points at the end of the first quarter, the USA blew the game open in the second period. The Americans finished with a 54-33 rebounding advantage and got a 13-point, 15-rebound double-double from DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins had previously struggled with foul trouble throughout the Olympics.
“It was tough,” Cousins said of the tournament. “I think individually everybody hit some type of adversity. We found a way to overcome it. That’s what it’s about. Winning is not easy. We found a way to do it, and now we can celebrate as a team.”
The game started off with four tied scores and five lead changes. The USA fell behind 14-11 in the first quarter after Serbia made a free throw at 3:12, but the USA closed with a 7-1 stretch that included a 3 from Durant, and the USA headed into the second period with a 19-15 advantage.
“This team kept getting better and even those three games in pool play, we had not played that type of game against that type of level,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We said it was a learning experience and our guys did learn. We put it to good practice. We kept getting better even though it didn’t necessarily reflect in the differential in the score, but we were getting better and more knowledgeable. That’s where I commend the leadership of our veterans for keeping us on course for that.”
Paul George started off the second quarter for the USA with a steal and slam dunk, which was followed by four free throws from Cousins, and the USA led 25-17 1:46 into the second. Durant went on to sink four 3-pointers to lead a U.S. charge that outscored Serbia 33-14 in the quarter to lead 52-29 at halftime.
The U.S. defense in the second quarter held Serbia to 31.6 percent from the field (6-19), while it shot 55.6 percent (10-18). By halftime, the USA had a 31-16 rebounding advantage. Cousins already had 11 points and 12 rebounds and Durant had scored 24 points, including five 3-pointers.
Carmelo Anthony, the first four-time Olympian and first three-time Olympic gold medalist in U.S. men’s basketball history, started off the second half with a 3-pointer and went on to score seven points in the quarter, while six other U.S. players added points to help the USA take a 79-43 lead into the fourth period.
“Nothing was ever guaranteed, but I never second guessed the work we put in to get to this point,” Anthony said. “I believed so much in the guy that is alongside me (Durant), the coaching staff, the guys that were with us day in and day out, putting us in a position to win another gold medal. I never doubted that. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as we would have liked. This journey that we had here in Rio, starting in Vegas, you can’t ask for nothing more than that.”
Three times in the fourth quarter the USA pushed the margin to as many as 41 points, but Serbia outscored the USA 23-17 overall in the period to bring the game to its 96-66 final score
All 12 U.S. players scored, Klay Thompson added 12 points and Kyrie Irving dished out four assists.
Overall in the tournament, the USA beat teams by an average of 22.5 points per game.
“It’s extremely special,” Thompson said. “We had one mission. We sought out to get a gold, and we did it. It’s worth every minute of sacrificing your summer for it. It would be an honor to do it again, but it’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
The USA now has a 25-game Olympic win streak and a 53-game win streak in major competition, including Olympic, FIBA World Cup and FIBA Americas games.
Spain (5-3) edged out Australia (5-3) 89-88 for the bronze medal.
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services