USA Basketball’s bid for a fourth straight Olympic gold medal for the men’s program continues.
Team USA endured a physical and taut quarterfinal game Tuesday, outlasting Spain 95-81. Here are three observations:
For the second straight game, Team USA rallied behind intense defense and sublime shooting from Kevin Durant. The Brooklyn Nets All-Star became USA Basketball’s all-time leading scorer for the men’s program in the last victory over Czech Republic and picked up where he left off, finishing with 29 points. Time and again, Durant delivered a big basket, carving through Spain's defense that alternated between zone and man-to-man.
Defensively, Team USA didn’t allow Spain to score a field goal for almost the first 6 minutes of the second half as they became much more aggressive and physical. This was no easy victory. Spain is the defending World Cup champion and No. 2-ranked team in the world.
Now, they leave Tokyo without a medal.
Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Zach LaVine threw down a baseline dunk on a pass from Devin Booker to cap a 14-4 run that closed the first half and rallied Team USA into a 43-43 tie. The basket closed a strong second quarter from LaVine, who sank a 3-pointer and also threw down another dunk.
LaVine is making the most of his first Olympics, entering the contest shooting 61 percent overall and 53 percent from 3-point range. Against Spain, he finished with 10 points and two assists. He also is fulfilling his vow to be a nuisance defensively. He routinely is picking up opponents with fullcourt pressure and has done a better job of not getting hung up on screens as the tournament has advanced.
In all likelihood, this game marked the last for Pau Gasol, who, at 41, competed in his fifth Olympic Games. Gasol, who earned back-to-back All-Star designations in his two seasons with the Bulls and won two titles alongside Kobe Bryant with the Lakers, admirably fought back from a series of injuries to compete.
Gasol and his brother, Marc, are no stranger to intense Olympic battles against USA Basketball. Spain lost the gold-medal game in 2008 and 2012 to Team USA and also the 2016 semifinal.
Gasol, one of the most influential players in Spanish basketball history, likely concludes his international career with two silver and one bronze medal. He didn't play in the second half and went scoreless with three rebounds.
Luckily for Spain, Ricky Rubio is only 30. The well-traveled guard, recently traded to the Cavaliers, turned in a masterful performance with 38 points.