Kevin Durant, Team USA Earn 1st Olympic Exhibition Win with Victory vs. Argentina

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 14, 2021

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13: Kevin Durant #7 of the USA Men's National Team high fives Zach LaVine #5 of the USA Men's National Team during the game against the Argentina Men's National Team on July 13, 2021 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Team USA is finally in the win column as its men's basketball team prepares for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The United States took down Argentina 108-80 Tuesday after dropping its first two exhibition games in Las Vegas. The results led some to wonder whether the U.S. is headed for another disappointment on par with the bronze-medal finish in the 2004 Summer Games.

Beating Argentina, the No. 4 team in the FIBA world rankings, will ease some of those concerns.

Zach LaVine was one of five U.S. players to score in double figures, and no two of his points were more emphatic than this dunk on Juan Pablo Vaulet.

#TokyoOlympics @NBCOlympics

.<a href="https://twitter.com/ZachLaVine?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZachLaVine</a> EVERYBODY πŸ‘<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USABMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USABMNT</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/usabasketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@usabasketball</a><br><br>πŸ“Ί NBCSN<br>πŸ–₯ <a href="https://t.co/yI8H9I8HWl">https://t.co/yI8H9I8HWl</a><br>πŸ“± NBC Sports App <a href="https://t.co/dYUPZSWlKt">pic.twitter.com/dYUPZSWlKt</a>

The U.S. squad appeared to carry a chip on its shoulder as it led 33-19 after the first quarter. The advantage grew slightly to 16 points at halftime and Argentina was unable to make it much of a game in the second half.

Notable Performers

Kevin Durant, United States: 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal

Bradley Beal, United States: 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal

Damian Lillard, United States: 13 points, three rebounds, four assists, one block

Luis Scola, Argentina: 16 points, five rebounds, two assists

Durant Too Good for Argentina

The international game has caught up to the United States, but one obvious question remains: How will the rest of the world stop Kevin Durant?

The 11-time All-Star allayed the fears about his Achilles injury by averaging 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists during the NBA regular season and then carrying the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs. He's basically the same player he was prior to the injury.

Team USA can't be a one-man show built around Durant and still win gold because the competition is too strong. But he's clearly the best individual player in the competition.

Larry Nance Jr @Larrydn22

That Durant guy might have a future in basketball..

chuck swirsky @ctsbulls

KD is just on another planet. <a href="https://twitter.com/KDTrey5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KDTrey5</a> it’s a pleasure watching him play.

Tuesday's exhibition was another showcase for the 2013-14 MVP.

USA Basketball @usabasketball

Big moves to end the half.<a href="https://twitter.com/KDTrey5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KDTrey5</a> x πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USABMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USABMNT</a> <a href="https://t.co/2q7v1roUJj">pic.twitter.com/2q7v1roUJj</a>


Bam (5 AST) throws the sweet outlet to KD (14 PTS) for the jam in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PhantomCam?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PhantomCam</a>! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USABMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USABMNT</a> leads Argentina at the start of the 2nd half on NBC Sports Network &amp; <a href="https://t.co/HbtDcrFgfZ">https://t.co/HbtDcrFgfZ</a>. <a href="https://t.co/1fQ9aYFm8x">pic.twitter.com/1fQ9aYFm8x</a>

Durant already has two gold medals to his name, and he put up 20.6 points per game across the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup. His international record is impeccable.

One downside to playing with the United States is that the roster is often so collectively strong that it's difficult for one player to shine above the rest. On a 2020 team that's good but not the best available to Team USA, Durant has an opportunity to make this year's Summer Games his own.

Team USA Displays New Sense of Urgency

The biggest reason not to hit the panic button with Team USA was that the Nigeria and Australia games were probably as bad as things would get in terms of the performance.

"I thought we got better tonight," coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after Tuesday's loss. "After a short time together, there’s a lot of things that have to be covered, but the first half and the second half were two different beasts."

The offensive fluidity for the U.S. should improve as the players spend more time on the court together, and the start to training camp may have served as a reminder of the level that will be required in Tokyo.

On Tuesday, this was a different Team USA from the start of the exhibition slate:

The movement away from the ball was crisper.

USA Basketball @usabasketball

Set the tone.<a href="https://twitter.com/Bam1of1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Bam1of1</a> x πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USABMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USABMNT</a> <a href="https://t.co/toNjfoCKwA">pic.twitter.com/toNjfoCKwA</a>


Dame to KD to LaVine.. look out πŸ’₯<a href="https://twitter.com/usabasketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@usabasketball</a> leading late in the first half vs. Argentina.<br><br>NBC Sports Network &amp; <a href="https://t.co/HbtDcrFgfZ">https://t.co/HbtDcrFgfZ</a> <a href="https://t.co/rQkwYh7A2j">pic.twitter.com/rQkwYh7A2j</a>


More <a href="https://twitter.com/usabasketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@usabasketball</a> πŸ€ movement leads to another Zach LaVine dunk!<br><br>Watch <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USABMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USABMNT</a> vs. Argentina on NBC Sports Network &amp; <a href="https://t.co/HbtDcrFgfZ">https://t.co/HbtDcrFgfZ</a>. <a href="https://t.co/8KKfcNywTe">pic.twitter.com/8KKfcNywTe</a>

The effort on defense was higher as well, and the U.S. occasionally turned that into fast-break dunks and easy buckets on the other end.

USA Basketball @usabasketball

Got 'em.<a href="https://twitter.com/Money23Green?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Money23Green</a> x πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USABMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USABMNT</a> <a href="https://t.co/UMqrvwWyjh">pic.twitter.com/UMqrvwWyjh</a>

USA Basketball @usabasketball

Not messing around.<br><br>πŸ“Ί NBCSN <br>πŸ’» <a href="https://t.co/fcUSsaVvGe">https://t.co/fcUSsaVvGe</a> <a href="https://t.co/TpsVRaK3OX">pic.twitter.com/TpsVRaK3OX</a>

The earlier hand-wringing about Team USA was warranted because the players came out pretty flat, and a seventh-place finish in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup wasn't that long ago.

But the U.S. appears to be righting the ship a bit in Las Vegas.

What's Next?

Team USA will have an opportunity to avenge its loss to Australia on Friday.