It was a little closer than they expected, but Team USA defeated Russia 89-79 in the quarterfinals of elimination play in Istanbul, Turkey on Sept. 9 to move two games closer to a world title.

Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 33 points and Chauncey Billups added 15 points and a game-high four three-pointers.

After ending the first quarter in a 25-25 tie, the game had the makings of another classic episode in the America-Russia rivalry, a series that highlighted international basketball competition in the early 1970s. But the Americans of the ‘70s never had a player like Durant on the roster.

On a day when the rest of his teammates combined to shoot just 36 percent from the field, Durant was there to save them. He was a scoring machine against the Russians, dropping in high-arcing floaters and nailing three-pointers. Durant’s slashes into the teeth of Russia’s defense netted him a game-high nine free throw attempts as he kept the American effort afloat early.

Durant scored 13 points in the opening quarter and chipped in a series of blocks and steals in the first half as the U.S. took a 44-39 halftime lead. Although Durant paced his team for much of the contest, it was his Oklahoma City teammate who broke the game open in the second half.

With the U.S. nursing a nine-point lead in the middle of the third quarter, Russell Westbrook plucked the ball loose from a Russian player, delivering it right into the hands of USA center Lamar Odom. Odom then found Westbrook streaking down the court for a wide-open dunk that raised the U.S. bench players out of their seats. On the Americans’ next possession, Westbrook knocked in a three-pointer before intercepting a pass and racing down court for a two-handed slam to extend the lead 63-50 with just over three minutes remaining in the period.

Westbrook finished the game with 12 points and a game high three steals, all of which came in a span of less than two minutes in the third quarter.

Durant, Westbrook and the rest of their U.S. teammates will now proceed to play Lithuania on Sept. 11 at noon for a chance to advance to the FIBA World Championship.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO