LONDON – Kevin Durant has become the premier scorer in the world.
Though the Olympic basketball tournament can’t measure up to the NBA playoffs, when Durant scores 28 points in 22 minutes against Argentina, a respectable foe, like he did on Monday, the only appropriate reaction is this: Wow.
By the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar drained 8 of 10 3-pointers, including 5 of 6 in runaway third quarter, when Team USA erupted for 42 points and held Argentina to 17.
From what I saw, Argentina was actually trying to stop Durant.
Losing 126-97 is never fun, but the fact that it was a preliminary-round game instead of an elimination game might lessen the blow for the South Americans. Maybe.
Still only 23, Durant has transformed into a magnificent scoring machine in his five NBA seasons. The three-time defending scoring champion is a career 26.3 point-per-game scorer. And he’s still figuring things out.
Scary, isn’t it?
Playing in the NBA Finals for the first time in June, he averaged 30.6 ppg against the Miami Heat. Durant increased his scoring output from 26.5 points in the conference quarterfinals to 26.8 and 29.5 over the next two rounds before facing the Heat.
That alone is a sign that Durant can elevate his game and is no slouch in the I-want-to-take-control-of-every-game department.
After Monday’s game, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, one of the centerpieces of three title-winning teams, looked back on Argentina’s game plan and explained what went wrong.
“They started scoring everything they were shooting in the second half and they were very intense on defense,” said Ginobili, who had a team-high 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. “Today we made a decision as a team and we decided not to give them easy layups, so we let them shoot and take our chances.”
Pick your poison, as they say.
“Kevin Durant was hitting every 3-pointer and the game became impossible for us,” Ginobili said.
Argentina coach Julio Lamas didn’t surprise anyone by his reaction to the defeat.
“To win against the United States,” the coach said of the defending Olympic champion Dream Team, “you have to play the perfect game. You can’t match their athleticism. We wanted to play the second half as well as we played the first half, but we couldn’t do it.”
The U.S. was in front 60-59 at the intermission. Then Durant found his shooting groove, and the game got out of hand.
For the Dream Team, the Clippers’ Chris Paul had 17 points, knocking down 5 of 6 3s, with seven assists and three steals.
Miami’s LeBron James finished with 18 points and had five assists.
Kobe Bryant had a quiet game, 3-for-10 from the field for 11 points. But when your team converts 20 of 39 3s, it’s not paramount that one guy carries the scoring load.
Paul, a terrific floor leader who has helped transform the Clippers into a respectable franchise, said the flow of the game led Team USA to use common sense and make sure passes were thrown to Durant.
“It sort of developed, but anybody in their right mind, when he gets shooting the ball like that, there’s only one thing to do: Get the ball to him,” Paul said.
When the United States captured the 2010 FIBA World Basketball Championship title in Turkey, Durant spoke glowingly about the opportunity to play for Mike Krzyzewski.
“He’s a great motivator,” Durant said at the time. “No matter what, he always tells us that we have to respect our opponents and have to play our hardest and we’ll live with the results. I love a guy like that.”
After a stunning performance in a game that tipped off at 10:15 p.m. in London, Durant reflected on one of the biggest performances of his career.
“It just felt good,” he said, referring specifically to his jaw-dropping 3-point shooting display. “I felt I had a good rhythm. I really didn’t pay attention to where the line was.”