Think back a couple weeks ago to the start of the FIBA World Championships, to all those concerns about Team USA — they were not big enough, they lacked international experience, they were too young.
You can get caught up in what a team can’t do and ignore what it can. And this version of Team USA had two things going for it:
Tenacious defense and Kevin Durant.
And those two things were enough to get the USA the gold medal, beating host Turkey in front of a loud crowd, 81-64. The win qualifies the USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, meaning all the top players can take next summer off from USA basketball and focus on the coming lockout.
Durant finished with 28 points but in the first half he carried the USA. Turkey went to its aggressive match up zone and the USA took a while to adjust, with 9 points on the 14 possessions after they started it.
But Durant kept the USA alive — Durant shot 7-12 in the first half, everyone else on Team USA was 6-26 (23 percent). From three, Durant was 5-9, the rest of Team USA was 1 of 13.
Durant was named Tournament MVP.
But maybe bigger than Durant Sunday — and all tournament — was the USA’s aggressive defense. They pressured the ball and tried to use their athleticism all over the court, and that more than compensated for the lack of size on this team.
The USA’s defense forced a veteran Turkey squad into four shot clock violations. In the first half, while the USA’s offense was sluggish, the defense held Turkey to 34 percent shooting with 10 turnovers.
In the third, again with some baskets by Durant leading the way, the USA started to pull away from Turkey, stretching the lead to 20. You could see the defeat start to creep into the body language of Turkish players — they defended Durant well, doubled him and he hit a turnaround fadeaway over them in the lane, and Turkish shoulders just slumped. Soon the transition baskets that Turkey had kept the USA from getting all game started to come as Turkey just succumbed.
Lamar Odom may be unfocused at times, but he brings it in big games and had 15 points and 11 boards in this one, doing it against a very big Turkey front line. Russell Westbrook added 13 points. Hedo Turkoglu had 16 points to lead Turkey on 5 of 8 shooting and 4 of 4 from three.
It was a well earned gold medal for Team USA, a tournament where the star that is Durant really started to break through, and where USA basketball showed a commitment to defense it not always has. When teams this talented are committed on defense, they don’t lose.