Team USA walked into a cauldron of 15,000 ravenous, screaming Turks on Sunday. For many of the young players who comprise the United State’s national team, they have never experienced anything like it. Only Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom have played before crowds like these when everything is on the line. However, a NBA crowd cannot compare to the scene in Istanbul. Not since Gallipoli has Turkey been such a hostile environment for outsiders. Many who have witnessed the scene have referred to it as complete bedlam. The FIBA World Championship took on a whole new meaning for the host country as their national team was able to scrap their way into the championship game with a thrilling, albeit lacking any semblance of an effort to play defense, come from behind win over Serbia in the semifinals.
Turkey, throughout the tournament, had been led by their two NBA players, Ersan Ilyasova and Hedo Turkoglu. Ilyasova has led the Turks in scoring averaging 14.3 points per game while shooting 46 percent on field goals and pulling down 7.1 rebounds. Turkoglu has averaged 11.9 points per game thus far to go along with 3.8 assists. They also get a considerable contribution from their center, Omer Asik, who collects rebounds at a clip of 7.2 a game and averages 1.4 blocks.
As the world has come to recognize by this point, Kevin Durant is Team USA. He has been flat out phenomenal and the NBA should take note. Durant did not try to dictate all aspects of this summer and make them converge on him. Instead he spent his time in the gym working on his game rather than miming jumpers in a casino. Most people probably still do not know that he signed a max contract extension this summer because he did not announce it with fanfare, smoke, fireworks, and a laser light show. He tweeted it. This is who he is, he lets his game speak for him and it speaks volumes.
A hostile environment, an opponent that is playing for its people, how would Durant and the other members of Team USA handle the pressure? After one half of play Durant had 20 points and had already nailed five three-pointers. He also had grabbed three rebounds, collected two steals, and rejected two shots. It would seem as though Durant was far from rattled about the confines in which he was playing. He opened up the third quarter by draining consecutive three-pointers. Russell Westbrook had the second highest point total at the half with seven points and the score being 42-32 in favor of the United States.
At that point, the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. Turkey kept the game close early on and even took a lead at one point during the first quarter on a three-pointer by Turkoglu to give them a 15-14 advantage. They would extend it to 17-14 before Durant drained a three to tie it. Turkey would never have the lead again as the United States stepped up its defensive pressure and Durant kept doing what he does best. Team USA held Turkey to 36.4 percent shooting for the game. The lead swelled to 20 for the United States in the fourth quarter and the eventual outcome became merely a matter of formality at that point. Team USA would cruise to an 81-64 victory capturing their first gold medal at the world championships since 1994.
Durant would finish the game with 28 points having hit seven three-pointers, one shy of the record set by Reggie Miller. The entire Turkish team only connected on seven three-pointers for the game. Turkey was paced by Turkoglu’s 16 points but he was the only player to score in double figures for them. Ilyasova had seven points and 11 rebounds while Asik had five points and four rebounds.
Westbrook had another well-rounded performance with 13 points, six rebounds, and three dimes. Yet, it was Lamar Odom who stepped up to play Pippen to Durant’s Jordan. (Yes, I will make that comparison and I will not back down from it.) Since the United States entered the elimination round, Odom has done all the little, gritty, and necessary things that must be done on the court in order for the team to be successful. Odom recorded his second straight double-double as he scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds with five of them being offensive. Derrick Rose chipped with six assists to go along with eight points.
Now that this incarnation has won gold, all the naysayers and doubters should be quieted. The Redeem Team is a distant memory and the players who refused to participate in FIBA play this summer have been deemed selfish. (Kobe Bryant is excluded from this grouping because he really did need some time away from the sport.) What “B-Team” wins gold let alone go a perfect 9-0 in the tournament? If you read all the printed criticism about this team you would have assumed that the gold medal was nearly unattainable do to the team’s youth and unorthodox rotation. Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo have been behind their pulpit since minicamp preaching a flexible and lengthy player doctrine. It would behoove many to take note. Now, they have no choice but to acknowledge the successes of their sermons.
By winning gold at the world championships, Team USA has earned themselves and automatic bid to play in the London Olympics in 2012. This is something that the Redeem Team could not even do as they had to qualify for the Beijing Olympics by competing in the FIBA Americas tournament. Now that Team USA does not have to compete in the Americas tournament, the likely hood of a strike is no longer a daunting prospect for the national team. They would have had to completely rebuild, yet again, with many of the NBA players being ineligible to play because of union contracts.
What the 15,000 Turkish fans who attended the championship game “witnessed” were the actions of a player who will be considered the best in the world at some point during his lifetime. No matter how loud the jeered and yelled, they could do nothing to cause his focus to waiver. His focus and determination were rewarded as he earned tournament MVP honors. Kevin Durant had set a goal for himself and the team. Now that he has attained gold at the world championships, he can return to gearing up for his next goal, an NBA championship.