RIO DE JANEIRO — Perhaps the world is a touch further behind the United States in basketball than we realized.
The American men were slow to awaken in their gold medal game against the Serbs on Sunday, just as they were slow to awaken throughout the Olympics. They opened with errant shots and missed passes, and possessions that consisted of the Americans pounding the basketball while everyone stood and watched.
The Serbs, led by savvy guards and Miroslav Raduljica, a bar bouncer of a bearded and tattooed center, played like a close-knit team; the Americans played like talented strangers. The United States stumbled to a 4-point lead in the first quarter, and I awaited another not-so-impressive performance.
Then Kevin Durant hit a 3-point shot. He hit another. He intercepted a pass and tossed it down. Long of legs and arms, and possessed of an oh-so-delicate touch, the spindly 6-foot-9 forward-guard-center extracted Serbia’s heart.
Golden State, which has acquired Durant as a free agent, appears to have made a good bet.
To judge by this final game, in which the Americans won, 96-66, and no Serb player broke double figures in scoring until the final minutes, we might conclude little has changed since the original Dream Team waltzed to Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992. It is more complicated. The French, and earlier in the tournament the Serb team, gave the Americans a real battle, the game in doubt into the final minutes. (History is a harsh mistress; had Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia held together, and Serb, Croat, Slovene and Kosovar learned to pass and shoot as one, perhaps the Balkans would have ruled the world.)
A healthy Marc Gasol, the…