RIO DE JANEIRO — After Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer early in the second quarter, he walked back down the court, pounding his fist on his chest and yelling at his U.S. teammates on the bench nearby.
Turns out he was just clearing his throat. Durant was just getting going and the United States, inconsistent in these Olympics, was about to make its biggest statement.
Durant’s monster second quarter ended any notion of an upset for Serbia and put the U.S. on the gold-medal stand for the third consecutive Olympics with a 96-66 victory over the Serbians, who surprised in Rio by taking the silver.
Durant had 30 points for the game, 18 of those in the second quarter when he made Carioca Arena I marvel at both his shooting and athleticism and turned an unwatchable game into can’t-miss television before it became a laugher.
“When I’m smiling out there, screaming and beating my chest and showing emotion, that’s when I’m really just lost in the game,” Durant said.
The Rio Olympics weren’t always so easy for Durant and the U.S., but they ended the way most expected, a perfect 8-0 record and gold medal, even if these Americans had to earn it a little more than some of their predecessors.
“We came here and won in spite of what people were saying about this group being less talented, not blowing teams out, not putting teams away,” forward Paul George said. “We did a great job of being mindful of all that, bottling all of that up and really unleashing it against Serbia.”
The U.S. was imperfectly perfect, at least compared with the high bar set by previous squads since the Dream Team in 1992.
There were close victories against Serbia, France and Australia in pool play.
But this team, while not as dominant over the course of the Olympics as some of its predecessors, avoided the embarrassment of coming home with anything less than gold.
“We got challenged and we showed the world we can redeem ourselves and show everyone why we’re the best athletes in the world,” forward DeMar DeRozan said.
It helped to have Durant, one of the game’s most dominant offensive players, who won his second gold medal.
Sunday marked the final Team USA game for two figures who helped revitalize the program after the bronze-medal disappointment of 2004.
Mike Krzyzewski, who will cede the reins of Team USA to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, guided his third gold-medal winning team, a record for U.S. coaches. Krzyzewski was 88-1 as the U.S. head coach.
“The main thing is the memories,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s been a joy. I’ve been so lucky to have been given this opportunity.”
Carmelo Anthony picked up his third gold medal in his fourth Olympics and said this would be his last Games. Anthony, who became emotional in his postgame interview with NBC, scored seven points and became the only U.S. men’s player to win three gold medals.
“I think I’ve given enough to Team USA basketball …” Anthony said. “I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve seen the losing side and I’ve seen what it’s like to win three gold medals. I wouldn’t trade that in for anything in the world.
“It wasn’t as easy as we would’ve liked it, but this journey we had here in Rio, you can’t ask for nothing more than that.”