Kevin Durant Makes USA Basketball History, but a Brutal Test Awaits Team USA in the Olympic Quarterfinals

For a moment, USA Basketball had things to celebrate. Team USA routed the Czech Republic 119–85 to ensure a spot in the medal round at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In that win, Kevin Durant made history. But then, with the bad luck of the draw, USA Basketball finds itself with the most challenging of the four quarterfinal games set for Aug. 3.

For United States residents, it will be the night of Aug. 2 when the quarterfinals start. Group play concluded on Aug. 1 when upstart Slovenia upset Spain to win Group C. That is also where the trouble for Team USA began.

Durant comes up big for USA Basketball

With a 3-pointer in the second quarter against the Czech Republic, Kevin Durant became the leading Olympic scorer in Team USA history. Durant has scored 43 points in three games so far in Tokyo, giving him a career total of 354 in 19 Olympic contests. Carmelo Anthony, a veteran of four Olympics from 2004–16, held the record with 336 points, but he needed 31 games to do it.

Kevin Durant of Team USA broke USA Basketball's Olympic career scoring record
Team USA’s Kevin Durant defends the ball from Czech Republic’s Tomas Satoransky (L) in the men’s preliminary round Group A basketball match between USA Basketball and Czech Republic during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on July 31, 2021. | ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images

Against the Czech Republic, Team USA weathered a quick punch in the mouth, recovering from a 10-point deficit midway through the first quarter. The Czechs led 17–7 and 19–9 in the first period and hung onto a 25–18 advantage at the end of the quarter.

USA Basketball roared back to take a 47–43 halftime lead and then eviscerated the Czech Republic after intermission, 72–41. Durant, the Brooklyn Nets standout, scored 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting, hitting 4-of-7 from deep. Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum had a game-high 27 points, and Team USA shot a sizzling 61.6% overall and was 20-of-42 (47.6%) from 3-point land.

The Czech Republic didn’t play poorly, hitting 50% from the floor and 8-of-18 (44.4%) from long range. But USA Basketball outscored the Czechs 27–8 off turnovers and 17–2 on the fast break.

However, there are clouds on the horizon for Team USA.

Team USA got the worst quarterfinal draw imaginable

On Aug. 1, FIBA conducted the draw to set the bracket for the medal round. The three group winners and the best second-place team went in one pot, the remaining qualifiers in another. If a draw paired teams from the same group, the teams were put back in the pot and drawn again.

The top four teams were group winners Slovenia (3-0), France (3–0), and Australia (3–0), along with USA Basketball (2–1 with a plus-82 scoring differential). The rest of the field included Italy (2–1, plus-16) and Spain (2-1, plus-13), and third-place group finishers Argentina (1–2, minus-8) and Germany (1-2, minus-16). The Czech Republic was also 1–2, but a minus-49 scoring differential spelled the end of its Olympic run.

After the draw, the quarterfinal matchups included Germany vs. Slovenia, Italy against France, and Australia taking on Argentina. That left the two top teams in the FIBA World Rankings, the defending Olympic champion Team USA and the reigning FIBA World Cup winners from Spain, squaring off at 12:40 a.m. on Aug. 2.

Indeed, one of the two top-ranked teams in the world will go home from Tokyo without a medal. The Spain-USA Basketball winner plays the Argentina-Australia victor in the semifinals on Aug. 5. The other semifinal pits Germany or Slovenia against Italy or France.

The medal games are on Aug. 7. The gold-medal game is first at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 6 in the United States. The bronze-medal contest is at 7 a.m. Eastern on Aug. 7.

Just one top-10 scorer for Team USA

Jayson Tatum had a game-high 27 points for USA Basketball against the Czech Republic and is Team USA's leading scorer at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Team USA’s Jayson Tatum goes to the basket in the men’s preliminary round Group A basketball match between USA Basketball and Czech Republic during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on July 31, 2021. | BRIAN SNYDER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Tatum was the leading scorer for USA Basketball in the group stage, averaging 16.7 points per game. That’s tied for 10th in the tournament.

Five players averaged better than 20 points a game, led by Slovenia’s Luka Dončić at 28.3. Australia’s Patty Mills put up 21.7 points per game, and Ricky Rubio of Spain dropped 21.3.

Slovenia leads the tournament in scoring at 109.7 points per game, with Team USA second at 105.0. The other 10 teams all averaged less than 90 points a contest. USA Basketball shot poorly in its opening loss to France but rebounded to lead the group stage by shooting 51.4%. France, at 50.8%, was the only other team to make more than it missed.

Team USA was also the top 3-point shooting squad at 43.4%; a number made even more impressive by their 8-of-27 performance in the opener. Germany shot 41.8%, the only other team to top the 40% barrier.

USA Basketball has never failed to medal in any Olympics in which they’ve competed. Spain medaled in each of the last three Games. One of those streaks ends on Aug. 3.

Statistics courtesy of FIBA and USA Basketball.

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