After Team USA's close call against Serbia, I wrote that maybe it was time to change expectations. Clearly, Kevin Durant feels the same way. After the U.S. struggled to get past France Sunday, the Golden State Warriors' newest superstar addition said not to anticipate any crazy point margins for the Americans in these Olympics.
"Obviously, everybody wants us to win by a lot of points, but it's not how it's going to go this time," U.S. forward Kevin Durant said. "We've got to be prepared for a grind-out game. We've showed the last three games we can grind it out."
Source: U.S. men's basketball hangs on to defeat France at Rio Olympics.
Inspiring stuff, K.D.
To put this in perspective, after group play, Team USA has outscored their five opponents by a combined 117 points, which is great. The problem is that they outscored their final three opponents in group play (Australia, Serbia, France) by 16 combined. And the bigger issue? Here's a look at the historical precedent.
Team USA point differential after group play:
That's on top of this being an uninspiring year for international teams, with Spain much worse without Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, France looking shaky and Argentina barely hanging on with its aging core of the best team in national history. This was supposed to be a cakewalk for Team USA even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. But instead, every game seems close, and Durant's quote more than anything seems to indicate that the team knows they're just not that great. The response expected is what Paul George said Wednesday, that Team USA can play to a dominant level, and that's what they should expect of themselves. But even George changed his tune Sunday:
Paul George: "This isn't a tournament that we're going to just dominate. There's talent around this world and they're showcasing it."— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) August 14, 2016
Team USA's standards for success seem to have changed dramatically in the past week, or maybe they never expected to dominate at all. Either way, that's the bar the world set for them, but as long as they don't lose, the results will be enough for them to quietly slide to the top of the medal podium.
Instead, Durant seems to be saying that as long as they win gold, that'll be enough. Maybe, but we're used to seeing America dominate in the sport that is most firmly theirs. Them doing just enough to get by is a bad look. Winning gold will keep everyone off the cliff, but sports are about reaching or failing to meet expectations, and Team USA is winning exactly as much as it needs to right now, no more.