SAITAMA, Japan – Back and forth they went, the three-time defending Olympic champions from the U.S. on one side, the reigning Basketball World Cup champions from Spain on the other.
The difference: The Americans had Kevin Durant.
He's never gone to the Olympics and not won gold – and clearly, doesn't plan on that changing. Durant scored 29 points to keep his quest for a third Olympic title alive, and the Americans are headed to the medal round after ousting Spain 95-81 on Tuesday in a quarterfinal matchup at the Tokyo Games.
“We've just got to finish it. Got to finish it,” Durant said. “We're supposed to be here. For us, it's about getting the gold.”
Jayson Tatum scored 13 and Jrue Holiday added 12 for the U.S., which will play Australia in the semifinals on Thursday.
The Americans also gave themselves the chance of extending a streak like none other in Olympic basketball history – in all 18 of their previous Olympic men's basketball appearances, they've gone home with a medal.
“It was a wonderful game in the sense that we feel absolutely great about the victory, knowing full well there's a lot of work to be done,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We played a terrific basketball team.”
Ricky Rubio was brilliant for Spain, scoring 38 points. Sergio Rodriguez added 16 and Willy Hernangomez scored 10 for Spain.
Damian Lillard scored 11 and Zach LaVine added 10 for the U.S.
Spain actually led by 10 in the second quarter, before the U.S. went on what became a 36-10 run over the next nine minutes to take control for good.
Spain got down seven early, then simply did whatever it wanted against the U.S. for a 10-minute stretch of the first half. It was a 29-12 run by the time it was over, a burst that turned a 17-10 early deficit into a 39-29 lead with 3:25 left until halftime.
Spain shot 13 for 22 during that stretch, the U.S. just 5 for 22 – missing 12 of its last 13 shots in the run. But just when it looked like the Americans were in big trouble, it was their turn to rally.
A 14-4 U.S. run to close the half made it a 43-43 game at intermission, the burst capped by seven consecutive points over the final 70 seconds. With that, it was a 20-minute game to decide who would play for medals and who would be going home earlier than planned.
The U.S. opened the second half on a 15-4 run – making it a 22-4 run going back to late in the second quarter – and went on to lead by as many as 16 before taking a 69-63 edge into the fourth. The lead held up, and the medal round awaits.