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OLYMPIC GAMES | BASKETBALL

Team USA 83-76 Spain: US win final Tokyo Olympics warm-up

Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Keldon Johnson did for Spain in a dominant second half for Team USA at Las Vegas' Michelob Ultra Arena.

Las VegasUpdate:
Team USA 83-76 Spain: US win final Tokyo Olympics warm-up
David BeckerEFE

Spain go to Tokyo with work still to do after being comprehensively beaten by the United States in Sunday’s final Olympics warm-up in Las Vegas. Once again, the world champions came unstuck against Team USA, as the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant, a man who had seemingly had enough of friendly defeats, led the Americans’ recovery from 28-37, coming alive at the end of the second quarter and inspiring a second half that saw the hosts butcher Spain. Sergio Scariolo’s men had no answer when the Americans’ arms began to move like windmills and Durant captained the transitions.

Team USA's speed of execution saw Spain swept aside, the Spanish ending up looking quite lost. However, it is an understandable defeat for them. They’re still in the period of preparation for the Games and, although players such as Ricky Rubio, Sergio ‘Chacho’ Rodríguez and Pau Gasol are firing on all cylinders, guys like Marc Gasol, Alberto Abalde, Víctor Claver and Álex Abrines are still to step up. Roles and systems must still be perfected and, in truth, losing preparatory games is normal and, at times, even healthy.

Garuba makes impression as Spain establish lead

The first man to catch the eye in Nevada was Usman Garuba. With a host of NBA scouts running the rule over the 19-year-old, he came out with energy and registered four points and four rebounds in just five minutes. Spain needed that, having started the game in somewhat stilted fashion. The connection between Rubio and Marc Gasol, a weapon with which Scariolo sought to hurt a Team USA lacking in height and which began with Durant as a false five, was not working smoothly. In the opening minutes, Spain were saved by the Americans’ lack of accuracy with three-pointers (12.5% in the first quarter). Garuba popped up at 9-3, as did Pau Gasol at 9-5. The latter, who was given an ovation in Michelob Ultra Arena, left his calling card and Spain, aided by some good minutes from Rodríguez, were leading at the end of a first quarter that had been an untidy one: turnovers, misplaced shots and dubious decision-making. 14-18.

Lillard and Durant to the rescue for Team USA

Rubio took the lead for Spain in the second quarter, producing those signature magical bursts in which he seems to float unstoppably across the court. In the blink of an eye, he had 14 points to his name and, helped by two three-pointers by Rudy Fernández, Spain pulled away to 28-37. It was then that Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich, a man on alert in the wake of the Americans’ defeats to Nigeria and Australia, threw on Damian Lillard and Durant to put out the fire. The Portland Trail Blazers point guard and the genius from Washington, a guy who fits the blueprint for the perfect player, reeled Spain back in: 36-38. At one point, Durant managed to produce a block to deny Rubio, beat Pau Gasol to the ball, get a 2+1 out of Abalde and sink a three from the corner. It is difficult not to be transfixed by a player who can do everything and has an understanding of the game available only to the very few. As they wait for Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who are still involved in the NBA Finals, Team USA revolve around Durant and Lillard. The rest are foot soldiers - now featuring Keldon Johnson, who offered up a convincing performance and brought plenty to Popovich’s team, including 15 points.

Team USA pull clear of Spaniards

The game began to get away from Spain in the third quarter, as the reigning Olympic champions turned up the aggression a notch. Every recovery for Team USA became a transition and, after an 11-0 run for the hosts, Scariolo called a time out at 53-46 to try things out, placing Willy Hernangómez and Marc Gasol together on the court. The Spaniards only managed 12 points in that third period, showing signs of being smothered out of it in attack and, after a 21-12 run for the USA, found themselves 57-50 down at the end of the quarter, with the shouts of “U-S-A” ringing out in Michelob Ultra Arena.

Zach LaVine then punished Spain with a three-pointer to make it 60-50 and, as the United States grew in confidence, they made the visitors pay from the corners, devouring them with fast-paced basketball that was simply too much for them and reminded them that, as of now, the time for friendlies is over. No reason to panic, however; this is a Spanish group that has shown time and again that they’re ready when they’re needed.

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