Kevin Durant Named Worlds MVP, but Just Happy to Get the Gold
It's safe to say Durant left Turkey following the FIBA World Championship with a higher global profile than when he arrived.
That was quite evident as Durant, who could walk around freely early in the tournament, tried to leave the Sinan Erdem Dome on Sunday. There was much commotion as many people came up to pose alongside Durant for a photo, and the gracious forward complied. Eventually, though, a USA Basketball official had to make like a pulling guard to clear a free path for Durant.
That's what happens when you are named Worlds MVP and average 33.0 points in your team's final three games. Durant on Sunday scored 28 to lead the Americans to an 81-64 win over Turkey and its first Worlds gold medal since 1994.
"He elevated,'' Team USA coach Mike Kryzewski said of Durant in the tournament. "He was on a pretty high floor already but he went close to being in the penthouse.''
Who knows what might have happened to the Americans had they not had Durant around to routinely save the day? He averaged a U.S. Worlds record 22.8 points in the event, shattering the 20.2 mark Luther Burden put up in 1974.
After receiving his gold medal, Durant was asked if his tournament performance perhaps would aid his global marketing ability. You can be assured answering that question was the first time Durant ever had thought about that.
"I just wanted to come out here and win,'' said Durant, who was joined on the Worlds all-tournament team by Turkey's Hedo Turkoglu, Lithuania's Linas Kleiza, Argentina's Luis Scola and Serbia's Milos Teodosic. "That's all I wanted to do. My mindset from Day 1 was to come out here and try to get a gold. I knew it was going to be tough. That's all that was in my mind. Any of that other stuff, globe marketing, none of that stuff even entered my mind.''
If it didn't have to do directly with basketball, Durant wasn't thinking about it when in Turkey. When not at the arena, he mostly hung out at the team hotel to prepare for games and get his rest.
"The beauty about Kevin is he's pure,'' Krzyzewski said. "He's not trying to do anything except play basketball, and get better. I love coaching him. He learned how to be a really good international player in the last five weeks, which will help him become an even better NBA player. He's that genuine. He's a special guy, and he's definitely a special player.''
The NBA scoring leader last season with a 30.1 average, Durant showed in Turkey he's the most potent scorer on any continent. Turkey used a zone against the Americans, but zones don't work against Durant. He shot 10-of-17, including 7-of-13 from three-point range.
Durant showed no emotion initially as he dissected the Turks. But after drilling consecutive three-pointers for a 48-32 lead early in the third quarter, it all seemed to come out as Team USA was closing in on a gold medal.
Durant went to the side of the court and looked to some to be jawing at a Turkish fan, which would have been out of character for him. But it wasn't that way at all.
"I was just pounding my chest, letting everybody know who we are,'' he said. "The USA team. That's across my chest. That's what I represent. So I was in the moment. I was emotional. And Coach K told us in all our meetings to be passionate and to be emotional ... That's what I was doing.''
Durant is good at listening to his coach. Before the Americans left three weeks ago for Europe, Krzyzewski told Durant he was being too unselfish and needed to become the team's go-to scorer.
Even though Durant was first team All-NBA pick last season, few expected he would be this dominant at the Worlds. Durant shot 55.6 percent, including 45.6 percent on three-pointers (26-of-57). He averaged 28.2 minutes, meaning he scored his 205 points in 254 minutes.
Projected over 36 minutes, that would be an average of 29.1 points. That's even higher than his Thunder 36-minute average of 27.5
"He didn't have an off night (in any of the nine games),'' said teammate Andre Iguodala. "That's what's crazy. I think he's really blessed to be in this situation to go out and prove his talents.''
Early in the event, Durant didn't have a lot of hype surrounding him in Turkey. Team USA assistant Jim Boeheim was asked about that.
"They'll know him after this tournament,'' Boeheim said of the Turks.
Boeheim sure was right.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson