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AP Basketball Writer
SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — 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.”
“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. coach Gregg Popovich said. “We played a terrific basketball team.”
Ricky Rubio was brilliant for Spain, scoring 38 points — a Spanish men’s Olympic record, and the most ever scored by a U.S. men’s Olympic opponent, topping the mark of 35 by Puerto Rico’s Butch Lee in 1976. Sergio Rodriguez added 16 and Willy Hernangomez scored 10 for Spain.
Damian Lillard scored 11 and Zach LaVine added 10 for the U.S.
“Right now, there is no time for disappointment and no time for any other bit of feeling,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “We are competitors and we lost the quarterfinal, but we know we played against an unbelievable team.”
It wasn’t easy, and rarely is against Spain. This was the fifth time the teams — the top two men’s programs in the most recent FIBA world rankings, the U.S. at No. 1 and Spain No. 2 — had met in the Olympic quarterfinals or later since 2004. The U.S. is now 5-0 in those games, but the margin of victory in those is a close- by-American-Olympic-stan- dards: 9.2 points.
And this one was no different. 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.
“It was a huge boost,” Durant said. “We didn’t want to go into the half down double digits. … We knew we didn’t want to get down big against this team.”
“I think it’s time for somebody else to enjoy the ride,” Marc Gasol said, indicating he’s playing for Spain for the final time, after a game where he and his brother both went scoreless — an unthinkable concept in Spanish basketball for two decades. “I think it’s time for me to get off the ride and for some young guys to step on and enjoy it.”