Team USA Basketball stays golden in Rio

Mike Krzyzewski becomes the first coach in Team USA basketball history to win three gold medals, thanks to 24 karat performances from Kevin Durant and Paul George.

David E. Klutho—USA TODAY Sports
Aug 21

Mike Krzyzewski becomes the first coach in Team USA basketball history to win three gold medals, thanks to 24 karat performances from Kevin Durant and Paul George.After some shaky moments in Rio, the Americans saved their best for last as Team USA basketball threw down the gauntlet against Serbia, and claimed their third-straight Olympic gold medal. Following their 96-66 victory in the gold medal game, the Americans proved once again: it doesn’t matter what continent the competition located — Asia, Europe, South America — when it comes to basketball, Team USA is the undisputed champion.Mike Krzyzewski, who ends his time as head coach of the American basketball program with a perfect 24-0 record in the Olympics, tinkered very little with his rotation and lineups down in Brazil. However, he made one simple and critical change just before knockout play started that made a major difference for the Americans. DeAndre Jordan was inserted into the starting lineup at center, ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, and with DJ anchoring their defense, Team USA never looked back.In the quarterfinals, the Americans held Argentina to just 78 points on 38 percent shooting. Two days later in the semifinals against Spain — the country they met in gold medal bouts in 2008 and 2012 — Team USA once again impressive defensively, giving up just 76 points on 39 percent shooting. Jordan, who normally plays in the shadows of his Los Angeles Clippers teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, took center stage and was the best player on the floor against Spain. DJ scored just nine points, but defensively he was a monster: corralling Spain’s pick-and-roll action, snagging 16 rebounds (13 of them on the defensive end) and blocking four shots.Kevin Durant, Team USA’s leading scorer for the second straight Olympics (19.4 points), was his usual efficient self throughout most of these games (74.5 true shooting percentage, which is smoking). However, Durant — the best player in the tournament by a good margin — was mostly passive and a little sloppy with the ball (two turnovers per game). In the finals against Serbia, though, Durant and the Americans unearthed the kind of performance fans and media types had been expecting for two full weeks. USA forced 18 turnovers and held the Serbs to just 66 points, while Durant led the way with 30 points on just 19 shots.Durant stroked a three just before the end of the first quarter, and it was on after that. The second quarter was all Team USA. Durant splashed four 3-pointers, and the Americans closed the half on an amazing 40-15, which was punctuated by their best play of the tournament: a six-pass exchanged that saw the ball hit the floor just twice as every perimeter player for Team USA touched the ball at least once before it found Durant’s hands for a wide open three.The game was already out of reach for Serbia, but the Americans poured it on to start the second half, too. In the second and third quarters, Team USA outscored the Serbs 60-28, and the rout was on. (Team USA went plus-109 in the middle two quarters during the Olympic tournament.)Enough can’t be said about Paul George, who returned to Team USA despite suffering a gruesome leg injury leading up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The injury cost him a year of his prime with the Indiana Pacers, but it didn’t curb he desire to once again don the red, white and blue. If you paid any attention to this team during their time in Rio, you know how much better they looked with George on the floor.George was fourth on the team in scoring (11.3 points), first in steals (12) and second in blocks (five). The Pacers All-NBA wing has a rep for being a lockdown defender, and it showed in his first dose of international experience. Serbian point guard Milos Teodosic carved Team USA up when they met during pool play. Led by Teodosic’s dribble drives, Serbia ripped apart the pick-and-roll defense of Kyrie Irving and Cousins. Teodosic, who racked up 18 points in six assists, in the first meeting — an all-too-close three-point win for Team USA — found life much more difficult in the second contest. Krzyzewski wisely moved Irving off Teodosic, replacing him with the 6-9 Paul George, who made life miserable for Teodosic: nine points (4-11 shooting), three assists and three turnovers. George is so long and smooth on the perimeter that he makes himself almost impossible to screen. He just effortlessly fights through and over screens. When Serbia was able to get Teodosic an alley to the rim, he found Jordan there waiting for him.The win over Serbia gave Coach K his third Olympic gold medal — yet another unparalleled achievement for the Duke basketball coach. It wasn’t his most dominant team, defeating their opponents by an average margin of 22.5 points (the third lowest margins since NBA players started participating in 1992). In 2008 and 2012, Team USA smashed their competition by 27.9 and 32.1 points, respectively. This, however, was another strong coaching effort from Krzyzewski, who wasn’t able to start working with this team until five weeks ago in Las Vegas. Once again, Coach K was able to get his 12 guys to buy-in to being a part of this juggernaut system.The third straight gold medal was a fitting sendoff not only for Coach K, but also for forward Carmelo Anthony. Melo — participating in his record-setting fourth Olympics — became the first American basketball player to win three gold medals. And while he struggled to find his shot the last four games of the Olympics, Anthony managed to finish second on the team in scoring (12.1 points), and become the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Anthony has spent a lot of his career in the backseat of LeBron James’ NBA, and it was neat to see him have his moment in the sun.The reins of Team USA basketball have now been placed in the more than capable hands of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who will seek a fourth-straight gold in Tokyo. We will see what awaits Team USA four long years from now, but one can be sure of this: America’s dominance in the global basketball remains unchallenged for yet another year.