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.