LONDON – The skinny kid needed a talking to, not a lecture. It was time for a chat to remind him why the U.S. team needed him to be more selfish.
Kevin Durant wasn’t listening. So Kobe Bryant spoke to him first. LeBron James followed.
“I told him, ‘If we don’t have the K.D. from Oklahoma City on this team then it makes no sense for you to be here,’ ” James said Tuesday while getting ready for practice. “We need that guy. We need the scoring champ on this team. We got guys who can do everything else, but we need that from him.”
James stopped and smiled.
“I’m happy,” he said, with a laugh. “He’s doing that.”
Doing. Shooting. Scoring.
Durant has become the Olympic team’s primary offensive weapon on an American roster filled with those types. James and Carmelo Anthony have scored on a par with him, but the majority of the U.S. team’s offensive sets are designed to get the ball in Durant’s hands.
On Monday night, Durant scored 28 points, including 17 during a torrid third quarter of deadly outside shooting, as the U.S. outslugged Argentina 126-97 in a rough game that included accusations of punches and cheap shots.
Durant’s performance was just what the Americans had been waiting for from the modest 23-year-old.
For weeks, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and Durant’s teammates have been urging him to shoot more, to score more and to dominate the way he did in leading the Thunder to the finals this season. “I don’t want to step on nobody’s toes,” Durant said. “The last thing I want is for guys to say, ‘All right, it’s time for you to stop shooting.’ But they get on me so much for not shooting when I’m wide open.”
Bryant was one of the most vocal. After seeing Durant pass up too many open looks instead of stepping up and shooting a 3-pointer, Bryant pulled Durant aside.
His advice was simple.
“Just do me,” Durant said. “He told me to do what I do. Coming from one of the greatest players to ever play, I’ll take that.”
Durant has been inspired ever since – he’s averaging 18.6 points and shooting a mind-blowing 61 percent (20 of 33) on 3-pointers in five games. He’ll need to stay motivated if the U.S., which plays Australia in the quarterfinals today, intends to win a second straight Olympic gold.
After James softened up Argentina’s defense inside early in the third quarter, Durant was the one who buried the South Americans by making five 3-pointers in the third quarter.
One was longer than the next, and every time Durant prepared to shoot, players on the U.S. bench stood and grabbed each other’s arms in excited anticipation before dancing, waving towels when his shots splashed through the net.
The Americans threw a similar bench party a few nights earlier when Anthony made a record 10 3s in an 83-point win over Nigeria.
“That gives you more confidence than seeing your shot go in,” Durant said of the sideline support. “Seeing these All-Stars and these champions and these guys that carry franchises and cities on their backs, to see them cheer for you like that, that gives me the ultimate confidence to go out there and play hard.”