DeAndre Jordan starred in the United States’ 82-76 victory over Spain in the men’s Olympic basketball semifinal on Friday.
That, as much as anything, shows just how much star power Team USA lacks.
LeBron James sits home, though he said he has regrets about not being here. Chris Paul, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Wesbrook all are watching on TV, too.
Certainly, no one is mistaking this team for the “Dream Team.”
Though Team USA still is the best in the world, the team it left home is even better.
The Americans never trailed nemesis Spain, and never for a minute did they appear primed for an upset. The Spaniards, who lost to Team USA in the finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, looked old.
But Spain’s experience, with eight holdovers from 2012, was good enough to keep the game from becoming a blowout. Having Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who broke his foot in February, would have helped the Spaniards, especially against Jordan.
“Marc is a big part of our team, and he will be [in the future] hopefully,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “I think we did a good job without him, but with him, we are a better team.”
Jordan, the Aggies product and once-wannabe-Maverick, finally dominated like he should most nights. He tied an Olympic record with 16 rebounds and had nine points, four blocks, two assists and a steal in 30:30 as DeMarcus Cousins fouled out in the third quarter.
“His activity didn’t sometimes translate into stats, but they translated into destructive play, or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “The other thing he came up with was a couple of huge offensive rebounds.
“He played a great game. Not a good game. He played a great game. We wouldn’t be playing for the gold medal if DeAndre didn’t play that well.”
Jordan didn’t even start during pool play. His first Olympic start came against Argentina in the quarterfinals when he had four rebounds and two points in 13:13.
In Jordan’s two starts, the Americans have allowed 78 and 76 points after allowing 91 and 97 in their two games before that. His defense has been a factor.
“For me, it’s great,” Jordan said. “Starting for your country, even playing on your country’s team, is amazing, and it’s a huge honor. At the end of the day, man, it’s not about me starting. It’s not about anyone who starts. It’s about achieving our goal that we planned in July in Las Vegas [at training camp]. Whether I’m coming off the bench or starting, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to try to continue to be the same player and help us win, man.”
Pau Gasol, who battled Jordan all day, finished with 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting and pulled down eight boards. Jordan earned Gasol’s respect, with the Spurs forward/center hugging Jordan afterward.
“He was our MVP tonight,” said Texas ex Kevin Durant, who scored 14 points and had eight rebounds. “He was everywhere on the defensive end. He was rebounding for us. He was blocking shots, finishing at the rim. He played a great game.”
Krzyzewski has grown to love Jordan.
“He’s such a good teammate,” Krzyzewski said, “and he’s so easy to play with. Not that he doesn’t feel that way with the Clippers. Of course, he does. But here, with his peers around the league, to be in that type of atmosphere, is great.”
Jordan, 28, is growing up before his country’s eyes. He is the biggest reason Team USA extended its Olympic winning streak to 24 games Friday, putting the Americans in the gold medal game for the third consecutive Olympics.
Jordan recently told ESPN that winning the gold medal stands bigger than winning an NBA title.
“It’s amazing,” said Jordan, who, in eight NBA seasons, has yet to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. “I can’t really put it into words. It’s something you watched as a kid, thinking, ‘Oh, man, I want to go to the Games.’ Now it’s like, ‘I’m playing in these Games.’ ... It’s an honor to compete at the Olympic level, and now I have an opportunity to win a gold medal, and coach has an opportunity to win a third gold medal. It’s an amazing feeling and something we really want to accomplish.”