Kurt Helin

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Watch Team USA celebrate winning gold in Rio

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They earned the right to celebrate.

The early rounds may not have been as pretty as some wanted to see, but in the end, the USA defense cranked up the pressure, they moved the ball on offense, they knocked down threes — Hello Kevin Durant — and the USA ran away to the gold.

So the celebration was on.

Bench play from Kyle Lowry, Paul George, rest of bench crucial to USA gold in Rio

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It had happened before throughout the Rio Olympics — a team that was not of the USA’s class was hanging around early against the starters.

Sunday it was Serbia’s turn. The USA trailed 14-12 in as it was getting late in the first quarter and the USA offense was a sloppy, stagnant mess…

Then everything flipped — the USA went on a 40-15 run and pulled away to lead 52-29 at the half. The competitive portion of the game was over at that point; there were just 20 minutes of garbage time left.

What changed?

The USA bench came in.

As they had every step of the way to the USA’s gold medal, the bench changed the dynamic of the game when they entered. They came in and defended, got some gritty buckets, moved the ball on offense, attacked the rim, and opened up the floor. It was the way they played the game Sunday against Serbia opened up opportunities for Kevin Durant, who in turn responded by nailing threes and attacking the rim on his way to 30 points.

This was not an isolated incident. The USA’s gold came because of their defense, and often started with the bench.

Deserving the most credit was the combination of Kyle Lowry at the point and Paul George at the wing — they changed games. Plural. Lowry is a better, more tenacious on-ball defender than Kyrie Irving. Paul George can guard multiple positions and was the best individual defender on Team USA. Often Jimmy Butler, another good defender, would be part of that mix. DeMarcus Cousins grew into that role throughout the games. When they came in the USA was a tougher team who could grind out a win.

Look at it this way, against Argentina in the quarterfinals the lineup of Lowry, Butler, George, Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins was +20 in 12 minutes, the rest of the team was +7 for the remainder of the game.

The USA’s depth — a bench of NBA All-Stars and All-NBA players — was always crucial to their success. No other country could match it. But what Lowry, George, Butler and the rest of the bench brought more than skill was a feisty attitude and toughness. The USA could falter sometimes trying to be too pretty when what they needed to be was tough. The bench adopted the tough attitude.

It showed up against Spain in the semi-finals, when the USA didn’t win pretty but they won.

“We fought,” Carmelo Anthony said after winning the gold. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we came together July 17 and we all committed for this one reason, right now.”

Anthony with three golds deserves to be a storyline. Durant, with his ridiculous offensive explosion, deserves to be a story line. Mike Krzyzewski and his era as coach of USA Basketball deserves to be a story.

But the USA doesn’t have gold without Lowry, George and the rest of Team USA’s bench.

Twitter reacts to Team USA’s latest gold medal in hoops

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The USA has won 25 straight games in the Olympics, which has now brought them three straight gold medals after the USA throttled an outmanned Serbian team Sunday.

On twitter, the love rolled in for Team USA from the biggest names in the game (and just some big-name fans). Here are just a few highlights.

Watch Carmelo Anthony’s emotional postgame interview

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Carmelo Anthony now has three Olympic gold medals, more than any other male basketball player in history.

This was emotional for him — because of the journey, and because he said again he is done and this is his last games — and it showed during a postgame interview on NBC where he almost cried thinking about what all this meant.

Anthony went on to talk a little about social issues in the interview.

“Despite everything that’s going on right now in our country, we’ve got to be united…. America will be great again, I believe that. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s one step at a time. And I’m glad we represented in the fashion we did.”

We all are.

Kevin Durant reminds everyone he’s the best player in Rio, peaks when USA needs him most

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Serbia was hanging around with the USA to start the gold medal game Sunday, grinding the pace down to a crawl through much of the first quarter, and the USA helped out with isolation offense and little ball or player movement. It was ugly.

Then Kevin Durant reminded everybody he is one of the two best pure scorers walking the face of the earth — and the best in these Olympics.

Working with a second unit that moved the ball and got transition chances — Kyle Lowry and Paul George came in and changed the dynamic — Durant went off.

Durant hit a three from about 27 feet. Next possession down he did the same thing. Next possession he blew by his defender and drove the lane for a two-handed dunk. Durant was just getting rolling.

Durant had a fluid and effortless 24 points on 14 shots and hit 5-of-8 from three — in the first half. At that point, the competitive portion of the game was over.

KD finished the game with 30 points (on 19 shots) and four assists, and like a February NBA blowout he sat most of the fourth quarter.

For a guy who has spent most of the summer painted as a villain everywhere outside Northern California, this was a chance to bask in the glow of winning for his country. It was a role where he is comfortable.

And it’s a role he’s filled before — he had 30 point gold medal game in the 2012 London Olympics, too. When the moment has been big on the international stage, Durant has stepped up. And not just on offense, Durant picked up his defense, too. He had some sloppy and disinterested games in group play on that end, but when the gold was on the line Durant picked it up and played well.

Durant was the best player in Rio. Bar none. You can argue that Pau Gasol for Spain or maybe others had better Olympics (Gasol was asked to play a huge role for the Spanish team), but there was nobody in Rio with the top end of Durant. When he got hot and took over game — which had happened in stretches before the gold medal game — there was nothing any team in Brazil could do. Something they have in common with NBA squads.

Durant finished the Olympics averaging a USA best 19.4 points per game, and while in Brazil he moved into second on the all-time USA Olympic scoring list (trailing only Carmelo Anthony). But he saved his best games for last. Which is what the greats do. He said he learned in the 2010 World Championships just to be himself and not worry about the outcome, and that clearly works with him.

Watching Durant and Klay Thompson drain open threes playing together against Serbia was a chilling reminder of how much shooting is on that Golden State roster this fall.

But Sunday wasn’t about Golden State, it was about a different kind of gold. And when the USA needed their best to secure that gold medal, Kevin Durant stepped up like an all-time great.