Nothing has come easy for Team USA in Tokyo, but thanks to a bounce-back performance from Kevin Durant, the Americans are headed to next week’s Olympic quarterfinals after routing the Czech Republic 119-84 in Saturday’s Group A finale.
Not only did Durant (23 points on 8-of-11 shooting) enjoy his best game of the tournament Saturday, but he also made history, becoming the United States’ all-time leading scorer in Olympic play. Representing Team USA for the third time, the Brooklyn Nets forward now has 354 career points to his Olympic credit, 18 more than the previous record-holder, Carmelo Anthony. Durant accomplished his feat in 12 fewer games than Melo, who has suited up for Team USA a record 31 times over four Olympics (2004 in Athens, ’08 in Beijing, ’12 in London and ’16 in Rio).
After a sluggish showing in exhibition play (they went 2-2 in Las Vegas, losing to Nigeria and Australia with triumphs over Spain and Argentina), the U.S. fell to France in their Olympic opener last Sunday, but have righted the ship by rattling off consecutive wins over Iran and the Czech Republic, outscoring them by a combined 239-150.
Five Americans finished in double figures Saturday including Boston Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum, who netted a game-high 27 points on crisp 10-of-16 shooting (including 5-of-10 from downtown) in the winning effort. Up until Saturday’s breakout, Tatum had been a relative disappointment for Team USA, contributing just 11.5 points per game while shooting an anemic 8-of-20 (40 percent) from the floor versus France and Iran.
Matchups for the round of eight beginning Tuesday have yet to be determined, though it appears USA will face one of Italy, Slovenia or Spain (silver medalists in each of the last three Olympics) in the quarterfinals.