After a lot of hand-wringing about their sub-par efforts earlier in group play, Team USA did exactly as expected and dominated the Serbians, 96-66, to bring home their third straight Olympic gold medal in Rio on Sunday. The Americans played arguably their best game of the tournament, using ball movement and stifling defense to destroy any lingering doubt about their preeminence as the global basketball juggernaut.
But as has been their M.O. during these games, the U.S. started off slowly yet again, coughing the ball up for six turnovers in the first quarter. The Serbians also hassled them into poor shooting to open the game as they started 0-of-6 from downtown and shot just 7-of-20 overall in the first, including just 4-of-8 from the free-throw line.
The U.S., however, stepped it up defensively early on, forcing turnovers on the other end that they converted into easy buckets en route to 17 fast-break points in the first half alone. The Americans did like they’ve done the past few games, subbing in their defensive unit late in the first quarter that includes Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and DeMarcus Cousins to give them a quick boost.
After holding a narrow 19-15 lead after one, they would start to blow things wide-open from there. Cousins started to punish Serbia in the paint in the second quarter, grabbing five offensive rebounds and drawing fouls on the opposition. He had 11 points and 12 boards at the half and was 7-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Kevin Durant also started to heat up in the second quarter, knocking down back-to-back threes during one sequence, then getting a steal followed by an easy dunk. He helped the U.S. create some much-needed separation, going off for 24 first-half points and leading the U.S. to a 52-29 lead at the break on blistering 5-of-8 shooting from downtown. That was part of a 40-15 run by the Americans. Durant finished with a game-high 30 points.