2021 olympics

The Fate of U.S. Men’s Basketball Gold Rests in Kevin Durant’s Hands

Kevin Durant shoots from the free-throw line during the quarter-final basketball game between the USA and Spain on August 3, 2021. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

When Kevin Durant is having a good game, which happens the majority of the time, it is not dissimilar to watching ballet. He is extremely tall and lanky, and he’s somehow in complete control of his unruly limbs. The way his feet and arms seamlessly fall into the perfect position to make the perfect shot is art in its highest form. Last night, when Team USA bested Spain 95-81 in the basketball quarterfinals, Durant was dancing. And for the USA to win Olympic gold, he has to keep doing it.

A victory over Spain was no easy feat, despite the fact that the USA has beaten Spain during every Olympics match-up since 2004. Spain’s star player, the NBA’s Ricky Rubio (who was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week), was having the game of his life, scoring 38 of his team’s 81 points. In the first quarter, Team USA’s chances looked bleak. Its three-point shooting, usually the team’s strong suit, was miserable, and they missed the first 12 of 15 three-point attempts.

They ended the first half tied at 43, and it was in the second that Team USA really came alive. Durant, who is the leading scorer in Team USA basketball history, was the centerpiece of the whole thing, seemingly undefendable, while Jrue Holiday and Draymond Green offered up much-needed defensive grit. A reason the team struggled throughout the first half was because its other best shooters, Damian Lillard and Devin Booker, weren’t playing their best basketball. In the second half, Durant, who ultimately scored 29 points in 31 minutes, finally got the help he needed to clinch the win. Booker, Lillard, Jayson Tatum, and Zach LaVine all finished the game with over ten points. And Holiday, primarily a defender, also ended up shooting excellently, putting up 12 points.

Even though the U.S. has won the lion’s share of Olympics men’s basketball gold medals, its journey to Tokyo has been surprisingly shaky, and winning the gold is still by no means a guarantee. Team USA lost its first two exhibition games to Australia and Nigeria and then lost its first preliminary game in Tokyo to France. Durant and Lillard have previously spoken about how they still haven’t quite come together as a team — Durant and Green are the only returning players from the 2016 Rio team, where they won gold — and have noted that they have an inherent disadvantage over their opponents, who have been playing together for years. Despite the unsure start in last night’s game, you could see them starting to gel. The ball movement was particularly impressive, and even though Durant stole the show, it was almost heartwarming to watch the best of the NBA play such deeply unselfish basketball.

Team USA faces Australia again in the semifinals — fingers crossed that the team learned something from its exhibition loss. Meanwhile, France is going up against Slovenia in the semifinals, with the latter making its Olympics debut this year. Slovenia is the biggest threat to the U.S. getting the gold. They have been playing excellently, thanks to the Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, and have yet to lose a game. Still, if Durant can keep up the stellar work and the rest of the team can adequately support their star, a gold medal seems likely.

The Fate of U.S. Men’s Basketball Gold Rests in Kevin Durant