Team USA challenged, but tops Russia to advance
ISTANBUL — Kevin Durant scored 33 points and the United States beat Russia 89-79 on Thursday to move within two wins of its first world championship since 1994.
The victory came on the 38th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s win over the Americans for an Olympic gold medal, a game with such a controversial ending that the U.S. players refused to accept their silver medals.
Durant made sure there would be no worries at the finish of this one, shooting 11 of 19 while just missing Carmelo Anthony’s U.S. world-championship record of 35 points set in 2006.
The U.S. will play either Lithuania or Argentina on Saturday. Host Turkey and Serbia will play in the other semifinal.
Chauncey Billups scored 15 points and Russell Westbrook finished with 12, including seven in a row for the Americans when their athleticism finally turned away a Russian team that had the pace to its liking for the first half.
The U.S. and Russia have met many times since 1972, including a U.S. victory 16 years ago in Toronto that gave the Americans their last world championship.
But none of the games is as memorable as the clash in Munich, when the Soviets were given a third chance after the Americans stopped them twice in the final 3 seconds, and they eventually scored on the second do-over for a 51-50 victory.
David Blatt, Russia’s American-born coach, reopened some scars that will never heal for members of that U.S. team this week when he said he had watched a film about the game and believed the outcome was fair.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski responded that of course Blatt would have that opinion as a Russian, which Blatt is not. He was born in the United States and went to Princeton.
Blatt’s team then looked poised to deal the Americans more Sept. 9 heartbreak, running its offense well in the first half and capitalizing on its size advantage inside to frustrate the U.S.
Then, leading by only five in the third quarter, the Americans finally began forcing the Russians into mistakes, which they turned into transition baskets that finally allowed them to shake free.
Westbrook dunked after a turnover, hit a 3-pointer, then came up with a steal and had another dunk to key a decisive 15-5 spurt that pushed the U.S. lead to 65-50. The Oklahoma City guard converted a three-point play to open the scoring in the fourth, and Durant’s brilliance from there helped the Americans further extend it in the fourth.
Sergey Bykov scored 17 points for Russia, which exceeded expectations in this tournament after coming to the worlds without some of its top talent, most notably Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, the MVP of their 2007 European championship.
Andrey Vorontsevich had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Timofey Mozgov, recently signed by the New York Knicks, scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
The Americans missed 17 of their first 25 shots, rotated too slowly on defense, and were outworked on the boards while trailing for much of the first half.
The U.S. built an early six-point advantage before Mozgov began to control the middle. He hit all four of his shots in the first quarter, twice while getting fouled, and his last basket tied it at 25 heading to the second period.
Russia got the first two baskets of that quarter, starting with an embarrassingly easy drive into the lane for an uncontested layup by Dmitriy Khvostov. The Russians pushed their lead to 35-30 midway through the period on consecutive baskets by Bykov, and only then did the Americans start digging in on defense.
They held Russia without a basket for more than 4 minutes, running off 12 straight points to take a seven-point lead, before going into the locker room ahead 44-39.
The Russians will play in the consolation bracket, still hoping to finish fifth.
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