U.S. takes commanding win over the Czech Republic, advances to quarterfinals
The teams of two volunteers, dressed identically down to Asics sneakers, pushed yellow dust mops up and down the court, mirroring one another. After finishing their trips around the floor, they pause under the basket and, in totally synchronicity, bow.
Every timeout, every halftime of the Olympic tournament looks exactly the same.
This is the kind of consistency the U.S. men’s basketball team would love to have.
Instead, they’ll have to settle for the highs, the stretches where the best players in the world play like the best team in the world. Or they can count on supreme individualism to get things done.
Led by Kevin Durant, they had enough of those moments Saturday, beating the Czech Republic 119-84 to assure themselves a spot in the quarterfinals.
The Nets star scored 23 points and became the U.S. men’s all-time leading scorer in Olympic play, passing Carmelo Anthony with a silky three-point shot from the top of the key in the second quarter.
Portland kept former Laker Pau Gasol as an assistant coach after he injured his ankle. He still wanted to play, so he joined Spain’s Olympic team.
“I just think about all the players that have played in this program. Pretty cool to be amongst names like that,” said Durant, who has now scored 354 points as an Olympian. “Carmelo is a guy that I played on two Olympic teams with. I’ve seen his approach to these games and try to steal some of his techniques. ... It’s still pretty weird for me to do stuff like this.”
The U.S. will know its opponent for the knockout round when men’s pool play finishes Sunday. After losing to France in the opener, the U.S. has won games by 54 and 35 points, assuring it will avoid opening the medal rounds against one of the top-seeded teams.
“You know, losing definitely helps you grow,” Jrue Holiday said. “It definitely helps you lock in and be able to kind of just pay attention to details and see what you did wrong. So from here on out, you know, we’ve done a good job of really just locking in and execute.”
Still, they could end up on the other side of the court from Luka Doncic and Slovenia, or against the veteran Spanish or Italian teams.
But unlike anyone they will face, the U.S has a distinct talent advantage, even if the Czechs tried to attack the Americans inside when their switching defense put smaller U.S. players against their bigs.
But that can only work for so long when the Americans can send wave after wave of talent.
“Their biggest strength is that anyone can light it up,” said Chicago Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky, the Czech team’s only active NBA player.
Tokyo Olympics Coverage
The Olympic tournament has been happening against the backdrop of a wild few days in the NBA, which included the 2021 draft. But the shocker was when most players woke up to the news that the Lakers had acquired Russell Westbrook.
“It was weird because America had already known it all day,” former Lakers center JaVale McGee said. “When I woke up, it was like 12 hours later. Yeah, I was behind.”
The Australians spent Friday morning huddled around a computer in the hallway of their hotel in the Olympic Village, players sitting on air-conditioning units and refreshing Twitter waiting for the next NBA twist.
“It’s weird to be so far away but still have it impact us so much,” said Matisse Thybulle, a 76ers forward and Australian national team member. “And I think the changes are far from done.”
McGee and Australian Patty Mills are among the NBA players competing in these Olympics while heading into NBA free agency, which officially opens Monday. Mills, a potential target for the Lakers, said his focus is on the Aussie team.
“I’ve got my way to be able to handle it,” Mills said after Australia beat Germany on Saturday.
The U.S. team is trying to keep things as status quo as possible. Even if they don’t have the continuity of their competition or the synchronicity of the floor moppers, they’ve got Durant. And Tatum. And Damian Lillard. And Holiday. And more.
“I think they’re the biggest favorite. … But they’re not going to have it easy,” Satoransky said. “… But they’re still the most dominant basketball team with the most skilled players that can make trouble for you.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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