U.S. Men’s Basketball Beats Spain, Moves On To Semifinals
by Steve Drumwright
Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum celebrate a win against Spain following at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 3, 2021 in Saitama, Japan.
A combination of lethal shooting and stifling defense to open the second half was the tonic the U.S. men’s basketball team needed in Tuesday’s quarterfinal game at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Hitting five 3-pointers while holding Spain without a basket for nearly the first six minutes of the third quarter, the Americans triumphed 95-81 Tuesday at Saitama Super Arena to advance to the semifinals.
Seeking a fourth straight gold medal and 16th in Olympic history, the U.S. will play the winner of Tuesday’s Australia-Argentina game in Thursday’s semifinals. The U.S. is 8-0 against Australia and 7-1 vs. Argentina in Olympic play.
Kevin Durant’s 29 points fueled the U.S. in a battle of the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the FIBA rankings. Four other Americans scored in double digits, led by Jayson Tatum with 13 points and Jrue Holiday with 12. Damian Lillard added 11, and Zach LaVine scored 10 for the Americans.
“The second quarter was key for us to tie it up, and then we came out in that third quarter and hit them in the mouth and took control of the game,” said Durant, who went 10-of-17 in shooting, including 4-for-7 from the perimeter.
The U.S., which beat Spain 83-76 in its final pre-Tokyo exhibition game in Las Vegas, is 13-0 against the Spaniards in the Olympics.
Spain, coming off a 95-87 loss to the one-man wrecking crew of Luka Doncic and Olympic newcomer Slovenia to decide the Group C winner, was led by Ricky Rubio’s 38 points. The Spaniards have won three silver medals and a bronze in their 12 prior trips to the Olympics.
Spain is the reigning FIBA World Cup champion, but fell to the Americans in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold-medal games, and then lost to the U.S. in the 2016 semifinals (eventually winning bronze).
A defensive tone was set in the first quarter, with both teams struggling to get anything going until the final three minutes of the period. Rubio was the only player to find his rhythm, scoring 13 of Spain’s first 17 points.
There was danger in the second quarter for the Americans as Spain took advantage of six straight U.S. misses to go on a 10-0 run and take a 39-29 lead with 3:25 left in the first half. But led by Durant, the U.S. fought back with a 14-4 run to close the half and tie it 43-43.
It was an ugly half of shooting for the Americans, who connected on just 37.8 percent of their shots and just 23.5 from 3-point range. Spain, meanwhile, hit 44.7 percent and only 20 percent from deep. Rebounding was also big in the first half, with Spain holding a 29-18 advantage. Spain also blocked six shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Durant hit back-to-back treys during a 10-2 run to open the second half, and that blossomed into a 22-6 burst as the Americans made five of their first six 3-pointers for a 65-49 lead. Spain was held without a basket until a Rubio 3-pointer with 4:16 left in the third quarter. Spain, however, clawed back, finishing the quarter on an 11-2 run, trimming the U.S. lead to 69-63.
The U.S. continued its better shooting in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
Slovenia crushed Germany 94-70 thanks to a big second half in Tuesday’s first quarterfinal. Doncic had 20 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists for Slovenia, which will face either Italy or France in the semifinals.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.