Kurt Helin

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Kevin Durant #5 of United States celebrates a play against Spain during the Men's Semifinal match on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant passed LeBron James for second on USA’s Olympic scoring list


During the group play stage of the Rio Olympics, Carmelo Anthony passed LeBron James to become the all-time leading Olympics scorer in USA history.

LeBron, take another step back.

While racking up his 14 points against Spain in the semi-final game on Friday, Kevin Durant slid past LeBron into second place on the list. Durant leapfrogged LeBron in the first quarter.

Durant has averaged 19.1 points a game over his Olympic career. While Anthony is at the top of the USA list, Durant could pass him if KD plays in Tokyo in 2020. Then again, LeBron is talking about a possible USA swan song and he could retake his lead.

As long as the USA is winning gold, it’s all good. There’s no Cavaliers/Warriors thing when the USA is on the chest.

DeAndre Jordan blocks, slams: check out highlights of USA’s win over Spain

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  DeAndre Jordan #6 of United States dunks against Spain during the Men's Semifinal match on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jim Young - Pool/Getty Images)
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For all the talk of the trouble with Team USA it comes down to this: One more win and they get gold.

The USA played their best game of the Rio Olympics — finally showing some grit and more steady defense — in beating Spain 82-76 to advance to Sunday’s Gold Medal game.

You can see the key to the USA’s win in these highlights below: Klay Thompson was draining threes (22 points 4-of-8 from deep) and DeAndre Jordan just flat out owned the paint on both ends.

Defense, DeAndre Jordan power USA into gold medal game with gritty 82-76 win over Spain

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  DeAndre Jordan #6 and Kevin Durant #5 of United States celebrate a play against Spain during the Men's Semifinal match on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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In Rio, the USA had been trying to make the pretty play and showing very little grit. If the game got ugly, so did the Americans.

That changed in the biggest game of the Olympics — just in time to keep the USA on a gold medal track.

Finally, the USA’s defense showed up in a big game in Rio — Spain shot just 39 percent (they were 8-of-26 from three and missed a lot of clean looks). Just as big, going up against Pau Gasol the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan owned the paint — 9 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks (I think they shorted him one) and he altered a few others shots.

All of that led to an 82-76 USA win that propels them into the gold medal game Sunday against the winner of the Australia/Serbia game (two teams the USA has already defeated, and did so with lesser efforts than they gave against Spain).

“We were just able to fight through it,” Jordan said in his postgame televised interview about how the USA dealt with the Spain wanting to make this game ugly and gritty.”Klay (Thompson) got hot early, we needed a game like that from him. But then ultimately we just got stops and executed our offense.”

Klay Thompson had 22 points — hitting 4-of-8 from three — while Kevin Durant added 14 (on 13 shots ) and Kyrie Irving added 12. But it was the improved USA defense that was key, we had seen a little of that against Argentina and more against Spain.

“We really needed it,” Jordan said. “We’ve seen it in spurts throughout the tournament, but I felt tonight and the other night (against Argentina) were probably our best defensive games of the tournament and if we can put a full one together and win the championship.”

The game was not pretty, in part because of wildly inconsistent — and at times overbearing — FIBA officiating with bad calls hurting both teams at times. They called five first-half technicals, and both DeMarcus Cousins and Nikola Mirotic were in early foul trouble. Nothing makes you appreciate an NBA official like watching FIBA refs.

After two days hearing about his sore calf, Gasol didn’t look injured in the least in the first quarter, aggressively going right at DeMarcus Cousins and putting up 12 first quarter points. However, the USA had their best start of the Olympics overall, racing out to a 10 point lead with hot shooting from Thompson.

Spain chipped away at that in the second half, getting the lead down to two points. Spain was able to hang around during a start-and-stop half, with a lot of fouls that killed the flow. However, the USA was 6-14 from three led by a hot hand from Klay Thompson, who had 17 points, and the USA led 45-39.

It was a back-and-fourth third quarter, with the officials calling fewer fouls — although DeMarcus Cousins did foul out. The USA got the lead up to 11, then Spain pulled it back to a five-point game. The entire quarter was that. It was Gasol fighting inside and a few threes — one by Gasol — that kept the Spanish team hanging around. Still was 57-66 after three.

However, the USA bench — which has been a real strength in Rio — stretch that lead out to 15 early in the fourth.

Spain tried hard. They some threes, and went to a 2-3 zone defense, and they would make little runs but could never fully close the gap. This was the kind of game where the USA let Serbia and France get too close, but this game never really felt in doubt in the fourth.

Now the USA just needs one more effort like this to get gold.

Report: In a shock to nobody, Pau Gasol cleared to play against USA

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 15:  Pau Gasol #4 of Spain dunks the ball during a Men's Basketball Preliminary Round Group B game between Spain and Argentina on Day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Eric Gay - Pool/Getty Images)
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From the minute that Spain’s men’s basketball coach in Rio Sergio Scariolo said that Pau Gasol might not play against the USA in the semifinals due to a calf injury, the universal reaction was essentially the “yeah, right” meme. Nobody believed him. Certainly not Team USA and its coaches, who have prepped as if Gasol was going to play.

He will, according to a report from the well-connected David Pick.

Gasol leads Spain with 17 points and 8.7 rebounds per game — he and the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic are the lynchpins of the Spanish offense.

Still, one of the keys to the game is how well Gasol is moving — is this injury slowing him at all? We may not notice so much on offense, where Gasol’s game is based on IQ and fundamentals more than athleticism, but on defense will he be able to keep up with the more mobile USA big men (DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan). Gasol is not a great defender at this point when healthy, if hobbled he can be exploited.

Kevin Durant says he plays his best when he doesn’t worry about game’s outcome

United States' Kevin Durant (5) signals to teammates after he scored against Argentina during a men's quarterfinal round basketball game at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Life comes with a lot of gray areas. Sports are somewhat cleaner that way — teams, coaches, and players get judged on outcomes. There is a big scoreboard at the end of the stadium that says who won and who lost. No gray area there.

Athletes become driven by that outcome — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Bill Russell, Jerry West, and many of the other top NBA players ever were known for their insane competitiveness and drive to win every game.

Kevin Durant is competitive, but he told Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today he plays his best when he doesn’t worry about the outcome.

“I told myself before I left my room, I’m at my best if I don’t care if we win or lose,” Durant said. “It might be different for other players. But for me, I’m more free and aggressive, and it’s way more fun for me if I don’t care about the outcome. I know if I go out there and be who I am, the outcome will dictate itself.”

 He will get ripped by some on Twitter/in the comments for this, but three thoughts:
First, this is just an extension of the “process over outcome” that coaches talk about all the time. Do things the right way and don’t worry about the outcome because it will take care of itself.
Second, do what works for you. Durant is one of the best pure scorers on the planet, a former NBA MVP, and if he plays his best thinking this way, then think this way.
Finally, before you say “but he doesn’t care about winning” explain to me why he just left Oklahoma City for Golden State to have a better chance to win.
Whatever motivates him, Team USA needs the scoring machine Kevin Durant to show up for the game against Spain Friday in the Rio Olympics. He’s the best player in Rio on any team, the USA needs him to play like it.