Kevin Durant scores 27 points as Americans reach semifinals, where they will play Spain.
RIO DE JANEIRO — As Kevin Durant was alone in his room Wednesday, he decided to approach Team USA’s game against Argentina in an unorthodox way.
He simply stopped caring whether the U.S. won later that night.
It sounded almost rebellious, but it provided a glimpse into the psyche of one of the world’s best basketball players.
“I’m the best when I don’t care if we win or lose,” Durant said. “It may be different for other players, but for me, I’m more free and more aggressive and the game is way more fun for me if I don’t care about the outcome.”
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Whether you want to deem his thinking twisted logic, selfishness or utter brilliance, it worked. Durant played his best game of the Olympics – 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting — and the U.S. in turn played its most complete game with a 105-78 victory and advanced to Friday’s semifinals against Spain.
“I know if I go out there and be who I am, the outcome will dictate itself,” Durant said. “I just try to play and be free out there, not worry about anything. Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) put me in great position tonight, my teammates were supporting me and I just tried to be aggressive and played my game.”
For once, a U.S. game was more festive than anxious, a welcome departure for the U.S. from its last three contests when the Americans’ looked mortal and fears of an upset grew.
By the end, DeMar DeRozan was practicing his 360 dunks, celebrating abounded on the U.S. bench and the Argentine fans in the crowd were more concerned with singing a song to taunt the Brazilian fans in attendance than they were with what was happening on the court.
“I don’t know if there’s relief. I just think we’re evolving,” Krzyzewski said. “The last three games … showed some weaknesses we had and we tried to get better. The only way you get better is by playing these tough games, so relief I would not use, I’d say we were just better tonight and more of who we can be.”
So was Durant, who clicked playing in a lineup with Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins.
After Argentina jumped to a 19-9 lead, causing its fans to rejoice throughout Carioca Arena I, the Americans jolted from their slumber and scored 27 of the next 29 points.
“When you put a lot of great basketball players on the floor, they figure out a way to make it work,” Butler said. “It’s just basketball. I don’t think you can overthink that. Shoot it when you’re open. Pass it when you’re not. Rebound and guard. Those are the fundamentals of the game.”
George and Butler handled the defense Wednesday, Lowry made sure the ball kept moving on offense, and Durant, whether he cared or not, was the main reason the U.S. won.
• Before going their separate ways, Tony Parker and Paul Gasol met near midcourt and the new teammates shared a warm embrace following Spain’s lopsided win.
They’ll soon be together in San Antonio to chase an NBA title.
They’ll never meet again in the Olympics.
Nearly written off after two losses to open the Rio Games, Spain is back in the men’s basketball semifinals for the third straight time after a 92-67 rout of Parker and France. The Spaniards got easy looks at the basket and dissected a French team that came to Brazil with medal hopes but leaves empty-handed.
After the loss, a nostalgic Parker, the dazzling point guard who made France relevant on international hardwood, said he would no longer play for his home country.
“I just took a lot of pride playing for the national team,” said the 34-year-old Parker, who scored 14. “I just love playing in this competition. I love this atmosphere, which is very different than the NBA. Growing up, my dream was to win an NBA championship. That was my ultimate goal. But as I grew up, I fell in love with the national team.”