United States 81, Turkey 64
Durant Lifts Americans Back to Top at Worlds
By PETE THAMEL
Published: September 12, 2010
ISTANBUL — All the migraine-inducing whistles, artificial noisemakers and haunting chants from the overwhelmingly pro-Turkish crowd here could not rattle Kevin Durant in the world championships final Sunday.
N.B.A. Has Sponsorship Deal With Global Bank (September 13, 2010)
Storm 79, Dream 77: Behind Bird’s Clutch Shot, Seattle Takes Lead in Finals (September 13, 2010)
Keep up with the latest news, on the court and off, with The Times's basketball blog.
Late in the third quarter, Durant swished a pull-up jumper over the Turkish guard Ender Arslan. Arslan threw his hands to the sky in frustration, summing up the helplessness of a team and a nation.
Durant, the tournament’s most valuable player, scored 28 points to lead the United States to an 81-64 victory and its first world championship since 1994.
In pounding his chest in celebration after two clutch third-quarter 3-pointers that put the game out of reach, Durant showed a swagger that should carry over to his N.B.A. season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Offensively, we just rode his tail the whole way,” his teammate Andre Iguodala said.
Durant’s dominance underscores the larger theme of this American victory. The team came here without a single member of the 2008 gold-medal-winning Olympic team but won in part because of the larger infrastructure Jerry Colangelo has built at USA Basketball since 2006, in the wake of several embarrassing performances in the past decade.
The keys to the victory over Turkey — Durant on offense and a tenacious defense — can be traced back to USA Basketball’s increased relevance among elite American players. Durant is the only player to participate in USA Basketball events for each of the past five summers, biding his time on the Select Team before earning this opportunity.
With Coach Mike Krzyzewski and a majority of his staff back from the Olympics, a sense of continuity and an understanding of the nuances of international basketball came with them. That was illustrated most at the defensive end of the court, where the Americans could exploit their last true advantage in international basketball — superior athleticism.
The Americans held Turkey to 36 percent shooting, forced 10 first-half turnovers and made Turkey commit four shot-clock violations.
“We think we can play a different style of defense than any other country,” Krzyzewski said, adding that once Americans learned the different international rules, “with our athletes, if we’re committed to it, we have a weapon that helps us win.”
American basketball now holds every major world title — Olympic, world championships, FIBA Under-19, FIBA Under-17, FIBA Americas Under-18 and FIBA Americas Under-16. The United States also qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London and overtook Argentina for the No. 1 world ranking, sealing a renaissance that had been years in the making.
“It’s a tribute to the structure and foundation we have for USA Basketball that we can turn over as many players that we have and be as successful as we’ve been,” said Colangelo, the organization’s managing director.
Krzyzewski’s international record in the period since taking over the team again in 2006 is now 49-1. He completed an impressive triple crown by winning the world championships gold to go with an Olympic title in 2008 and an N.C.A.A. title at Duke in 2010. After losing in his two previous tries at the world championships, Krzyzewski appeared emotional after the victory.
“This was a very special thing,” he said. “We haven’t won a world championship since 1994, and we as a country are trying to show great respect for the world championship, which I’m not sure that we did maybe a decade ago.”
The game swung early in the third quarter, when Durant drained two 3-point shots and Lamar Odom scored on a putback after a Derrick Rose miss to push the Americans’ lead to 50-32. Odom finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds and became the soul of this team to complement Durant’s star. He earned it Sunday, with a puffy cut under his left eye that had to get sewn up in the first half.
“Odom was a monster tonight, both offensively and defensively,” Krzyzewski said.
The second Durant 3-pointer during that defining flurry provided the day’s highlight for the United States. He got the ball on the left wing, took a step toward the basket and hopped back behind the 3-point line to drill a shot over Hedo Turkoglu. That moment summed up the matchup of each country’s biggest star, with Turkoglu scoring just 16 points and looking glum on the bench for stretches of the second half.
Sunday was also a critical day for Turkish politics. A vote took place on a political referendum for 26 changes in the Turkish constitution, which include such core issues as affirmative action measures for women, privacy and more justices on the Constitutional Court and in the judiciary.
In polls leading up to Sunday’s vote, the referendum was split nearly 50-50, with signs lining the streets here and vans with microphones driving around and politicking for each side. The referendum passed on Sunday, with about 58 percent of the vote.
Although that outcome may have appeared uncertain, Durant’s brilliance at the Sinan Erdem Dome led to little doubt here.
“My only option was to come out here and get a gold, and it feels really good to bring this back to the States,” Durant said.
In a victory that signifies the full return of American basketball dominance, USA Basketball can thank Durant for putting it back on top.