Off bench, Durant still rules international court
Posted: Friday, July 13, 2012 7:01 pm
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — New role, same old result for Kevin Durant.
And even with another loss from its roster, the U.S. Olympic basketball team just keeps on rolling along.
Durant picked up where he left off in international competition, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead the Americans to a 113-59 victory over the Dominican Republic on Thursday night in an exhibition game.
The MVP of the world basketball championship two years ago, Durant came off the bench to shoot 9-of-11 from the field, making 5-of-6 3-pointers in 22 minutes. He said coach Mike Krzyzewski told him shortly before the game that Carmelo Anthony would start alongside LeBron James at forward, and he adjusted just fine.
“It felt good to me,” Durant said. “It was cool to come off the bench for the first time. Wherever they need that spark, I’m going to try to come out and give them that spark. So I was looking forward to having different roles playing with USA, so it was kind of fun for me, actually.”
And it worked perfectly for the Americans, who continue to shake off their lack of size by throwing together lineups that negate any height disadvantage. Durant came in the first time for center Tyson Chandler.
“The way we’re playing is exactly the way we should play, I think, with this group of athletes and with the depth that we have,” Krzyzewski said, adding that Durant would remain a reserve for at least the next game. “We have good depth, especially on the perimeter.”
Andre Iguodala added 18 points and Anthony had 13 for the Americans, who were without All-Star forward Blake Griffin. The Los Angeles Clippers announced Thursday night that he would need surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and would miss the Olympics.
It’s another loss up front for the Americans, already without Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. But James, Anthony and Durant can all play power forward or perhaps even center in the international game.
“They’re big,” said Dominican Republic coach John Calipari, who won the national championship with Kentucky in April. “They’re bigger than you think.”
Alternate Anthony Davis took Griffin’s place and was in uniform against his college coach. But Calipari was the on the wrong end of the talent mismatch in this one, calling a few timeouts but probably knowing there was no strategy to stop the onslaught of U.S. fast breaks.
Davis, the national player of the year as a freshman and No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, didn’t make the 12-man roster after being unable to scrimmage before it was selected while recovering from a sprained ankle. But USA Basketball leadership believes his rebounding and shot blocking could be a good addition to an undersized team in case of an injury, and he scored nine points in 10 fourth-quarter minutes.
Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks shot 1-of-12 and had seven points and the Dominicans’ other NBA player, Francisco Garcia, missed all three attempts from the field.
James and Kobe Bryant both had limited duty, playing less than 20 minutes and combining for 11 points.
Durant hit all five shots in the first quarter, including three 3-pointers. He returned early in the second and knocked down another 3 before he finally missed, helping the Americans build a 50-27 halftime lead behind his 21 points. He started the second half.
Griffin is another loss for a U.S. team that already saw Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Bosh withdraw because of injuries. Chris Paul has been limited during training camp after spraining his right thumb on the first day.
Despite those losses, the Americans still consider themselves the best team in the world — and apparently, ever. Bryant created a stir when he said he thought this young, athletic U.S. team probably would have pulled out a game against the Dream Team, which didn’t sit well with his Hall of Fame elders.
“I absolutely laughed,” Michael Jordan said before playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Charlotte, N.C. “For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done.”
Bryant wasn’t bothered.
“I’m not really tripping,” Bryant said. “The fact is they’ve got (Patrick) Ewing and (David) Robinson, those big guys. I mean it’s tough. But if you’re asking me if we can beat them one game, yeah we can beat them one game.”
You didn’t ask me if we could beat them in a seven-game series. One game, we could get them, no question about it.”
The Americans believe they can be better than the team that won the gold medal four years ago because of Durant, the NBA’s three-time scoring champion who seems even more dangerous in international competition. The 3-point line, just over 22 feet away, is an easy shot for him, and at 6-foot-9 he can play any frontcourt position — he entered the game the first time for center Tyson Chandler.
Durant set U.S. tournament records two years ago in Istanbul with 38 points in a game and an average of 22.8 for the championship, leading a young U.S. team to its first gold medal in the event since 1994. He has transitioned easily to this veteran squad that returns five players from the gold medalists in Beijing.
The Dominicans nearly joined the Americans in London, losing to Nigeria in the third-place game of the Olympic qualifying tournament last Sunday. Had they won, they would have claimed the 12th and final place in the field.
Now they know what they favorites would have looked like.
With Duke’s Krzyzewski on the U.S. bench and facing Calipari for the first time in seven years, the coaching matchup was worthy of an NCAA Final Four. The scoreboard was more representative of a No. 1 vs. No. 16 game.
The Americans barely let the Dominicans get into any sort of offense, limiting them to 32 percent shooting.
About the only thing to question about the U.S. were their uniforms, featuring white tops with the pattern of an American flag faded into the back, and shorts that were white in the front and blue in back, making them look like the home team facing one direction and the visitors from behind.
The Americans head across the country Friday to continue their training in Durant’s hometown of Washington. They will play an exhibition game against Brazil on Monday before finishing their Olympic preparations in Europe.
The Dominicans lost former Louisville guard Edgar Sosa to a leg injury in the first quarter. Calipari believed he had a broken foot.
Published in The Messenger 7.13.12