USA Men Pass First Test, Drub Argentina 111-74
- Las Vegas
On the first play of the game, Kevin Durant made a play on defense and he was rewarded at the other end. That would be a recurring theme Friday night for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team, which opened its nationwide USA Basketball Showcase presented by Verizon exhibition tour ahead of the Rio Olympic Games with a 111-74 victory against Argentina in front of a sold-out crowd at T-Mobile Arena.
“We went hard, nobody paced themselves,” Durant said. “From the beginning of the game, we started off with a steal and a dunk then just kept going after that, and the next five came in and did the same thing.”
DeAndre Jordan and Paul George were especially dominant in the first quarter, when the USA built an 18-point lead that would balloon to 29 later in the first half. Jordan scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting with three rebounds and an assist while George scored 10 points.
Argentina’s Manu Ginobli, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs, ended the first half with a buzzer beating 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 23, and Argentina built on that with a solid third quarter. But the Men’s National Team reasserted its dominance in the fourth quarter, led by back-to-back 3-pointers from Durant.
“When we started shooting well I thought it was more of a team rhythm,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and then we got into a Durant rhythm for a little bit.”
Durant scored a game-high 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-9 behind the 3-point line, Carmelo Anthony poured in 14 points and George notched 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
When George’s first shot went through the net there was an extra cheer from a crowd that recognized this was the Indiana Pacers guard’s first USA Basketball game since breaking his leg in Las Vegas two years ago, something George put even further in the rearview mirror with his performance.
“Really the final step in the chapter of this is coming home with that gold,” George said. “This is definitely a huge step for me personally, but as a whole it’s winning that gold.”
The USA Men’s National Team didn’t shoot great, hitting 39-of-87 (.448 percent), but they were absolutely dominant on the boards. DeMarcus Cousins posted 14 points and 15 rebounds in 16 minutes, and overall the team outrebounded Argentina 53-30.
“We were kept in the game by their offensive rebounding and inside scoring,” coach Krzyzewski said of Cousins and Jordan. “… They’re OK doing all the dirty work, and the rest of the guys love that.”
Krzyzewski experimented with a lot of different lineups throughout the game, and all 12 players on the roster played at least 11 minutes. Sometimes the combinations didn’t quite work, but at this stage it’s more important for the team to work in different groups than to have the best lineup on the floor at all times.
“We can be a lot better, and that’ll come,” said forward Draymond Green. “That’s why you play these exhibition games to iron out the kinks. … It’s been a great five days for us, now it’s time to move on to the next city.”
The USA Basketball Showcase tour continues this weekend in California, where they will train and play exhibitions against China on Sunday in Los Angeles and on Tuesday in Oakland. Then it’s off to Chicago, where they will face Venezuela, and Houston, where the tour will wrap with an exhibition against Nigeria.
Training camp in Las Vegas spanned five days, and over that time Krzyzewski got to know the new players, Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler, while getting reacquainted with the guys who have been in his camps before. Krzyzewski didn’t come to Las Vegas with a list of goals to accomplish, but he did gain an understanding of what he and the coaching staff have to work with.
“What I’ve learned is I have a team that’s very willing to work, they’re very unselfish and they like one another,” Krzyzewski said.
Those have been winning ingredients in the past for USA Basketball, which again will be expected to reach the top of the Olympic pedestal. Just because everyone expects them to win, though, doesn’t mean it will happen if they don’t build on the lessons of this week.
“Anything can happen in basketball. Nothing is ever for sure,” Durant said. “We want to get this gold, but we’re not gold medalists right now, we don’t have the gold around our necks. So once it’s for sure then we’ll be excited, but right now we’ve got a job to do, prepare the right way every day.”