ORLANDO, Fla. — That was more like it.
As I said in a previous column, Team USA should never be beaten in basketball at the Olympic Games.
We’re just better; we have better players, better athletes, better schemes ... just better. It’s really that simple.
Especially when you have Kevin “King Dominator” Durant on the squad.
So there was really no need to push the panic button. We all should have known that, but after Team USA lost in exhibition play and then lost its Olympic opener to France, Americans back home started to wonder what was going on.
Even Team USA was upset. Durant called a players-only meeting.
“I’ve never lost with Team USA before,” Durant told the media after winning the gold medal in Tokyo over the weekend and becoming USA’s all-time leader in scoring and 3-pointers made in Olympic competition. “Taking a loss was tough. When you have a team meeting, you’re at the bottom. We worked our way up from there.
“A lot of people back home doubted us. When you hear the noise so much, we came together and finished it off with a perfect ending.”
Indeed, from there, the worry was put to rest. KD single-handedly took over these Olympic Games. He was a man among boys and the biggest reason why the Americans can still tell all other international teams, “Don’t bring that weak stuff in here.”
If you do, it’s likely going to get swatted back in your face. These Olympics, however, were more about finesse than the power game. Team USA played smaller than most every other team at the Olympics but didn’t flinch, especially in the games that mattered most. Forget those earlier exhibitions. That was merely practice. And the Olympic opener, no one cares now.
In the final five games, the games that truly mattered, Team USA finally kicked it into gear. They started passing the ball, creating movement on offense that consistently found open players. Whether it was kick-out passes to the perimeter or drive-and-pass easy buckets in the lane, Team USA started to create its offense.
And when the offense struggled a bit, such as in the gold-medal game against France when Devin Booker missed all of his floor shots and Damian Lillard made just four, Durant put on his cape and turned into Super KD, taking over the game whenever he wanted, scoring 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
Just like he has time and again during his NBA career, KD took over. The same things happened to the Magic once. In a game at Oakland, Calif., in 2018, Orlando was rolling against a depleted Golden State team by 17 points at halftime. KD got tired of watching the fiasco.
The rest of the game, it was all King Dominator and then some. The Orlando contingent grew tired of the pubic-address announcer bellowing his name time and again. Durant scored 49 points, 16 of which came in the third quarter. Simply put, KD went off. Drilling 3s, running the break for dunks and backing down Magic defenders for mid-range jumpers. He did it all.
In these Olympic Games, he did it all again. He averaged 22 points in the final five games, as well as six rebounds and four assists. He also torched the Olympic nets with 53% shooting from the field, including 42% on 3-pointers.
KD aside, however, this Olympic gold medal was won by a revved-up, double-teaming, trapping, switching perimeter defense that left most opponents confused. Team USA defenders met the ball as it crossed halfcourt, then forced double-team situations. When teams sent high picks to help offset the double-teams and traps, Team USA would recognize and switch off.
Team USA players recognized they were better. It fueled them. They won the final five games by an average margin of 25.4 points, held the opposition to 78.2 points per game and scored at will, averaging 103.6 points per game.
The aggressive defensive scheme often led to turnovers. The opposition turned the ball over an average of 18 times in those final five games. Heck, I can even begrudgingly give curmudgeonly old coach Gregg Popovich credit for some of that.
Team USA dominated when it mattered, thanks to King Dominator. It’s what we hoped. It’s what we expected. King Dominator took us to gold. KD has now won three straight gold medals. Asked if he would go for No. 4, KD said, “We’ll see.”
Yes, we will, but no matter who is on the roster, Americans will expect nothing more than domination once again in Paris 2024. Team USA has won 16 Olympic gold medals, failing to earn gold just three times — 1972, 1988 and 2004. (There was a boycott in 1980.)
The USA has won four straight gold medals since the Athens debacle of 2004. We should never face that sort of debacle again. King Dominator or not.