BY CHAD SMITH
Kevin Durant exploded for 33 points, and his sidekick Russell Westbrook finished with 12 points as Team USA defeated Russia, 89-79 on Thursday.
Durant was 11 of 19 shooting, and came up just two points short of Carmelo Anthony’s world championship team record of 35 points in a game in 2006. Chauncey Billups also added 15 points and five assists for the Americans as they relied on their athleticism from the young guys, and the veteran experience of Billups and Odom (six points, 12 rebounds).
The victory for the Americans came on the 38th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s win over the USA for an Olympic gold medal, a game with such a controversial ending that the Americans refused to accept their silver medals.
Lithuania and Argentina play later today to determine the fourth and final team that will make it into the semifinals. The U.S. will play the winner of that game on Saturday, with a chance to go to the Championship game.
The Americans were only up by five in the third quarter, but then turned on their defense, forcing Russia into a lot of turnovers, which transformed into fast break points for the U.S. They went on a 15-5 run in the third, pushing their lead up to 15 points.
Despite missing 17 of their first 25 shots, being out rebounded, and playing sluggish defense at times, team USA was able to finally turn on their defense and make a run. They held Russia without a basket for more than four minutes, scoring 12 straight points to take a seven point lead, before going into the locker room in front 44-39.
The fouls and free throw shooting were about even, but the turnovers were not. Russia finished the game with 18 turnovers, compared to just eight for the Americans. The U.S. managed to get 14 steals from Russia, who only got two. Russia pulled down eight more rebounds and shot a better percentage from the floor, but the Americans were able to overcome those deficits and pull out the victory.
Besides Durant, Billups, and Westbrook, there were no real bright spots for the Americans. No other USA player had more than six points. They will need a more balanced game against either Lithuania or Argentina on Saturday if they want to get to the Championship game on Sunday.