The final eight seconds of Team USA's 86-85 exhibition win over Spain on Sunday night in Madrid belonged to Kevin Durant.
The Thunder forward secured the victory not with a game-winning shot but with two game-saving blocks. His swats — which prevented corner 3-pointers by Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez — preserved an unblemished record for the United States heading into its fourth and final exhibition game Wednesday against Greece.
More importantly, Durant's timely defense punctuated his month-long development with Team USA and perhaps foreshadowed not only what's to come during the FIBA World Championship, which begin Saturday in Turkey, but also the 2010-11 NBA season.
Against a Spanish team that is the defending FIBA world champion and considered by many to be this year's favorite, Durant produced a performance that could best be described as his international breakout game. He scored a game-high 25 points on nine of 16 shooting. He pulled down 10 rebounds. He answered Spain when it took its first lead of the game by swishing a driving scoop shot to tie the score at 82-all.
Durant exceeded every lofty expectation that was placed upon him entering this summer's games, while kicking the criticism he collected following sub par showings in his first two exhibitions. And after such a stellar performance, with the world watching, there's no telling what we might see next — as if what we've witnessed thus far hasn't been impressive enough.
Before the U.S. team of hopefuls could even convene in Las Vegas for the start of its first 2010 training camp on July 24, Durant was dubbed the face of Team USA. He responded by repeatedly reminding the media that basketball is a team game and that no player, especially on Team USA, is bigger than another. But on Sunday, he showed he can indeed fulfill that role.
When USA coach Mike Krzyzewski labeled Durant too unselfish, Durant responded by acknowledging his teammates' talents and expressing confidence in how they are more than capable of contributing if he finds himself struggling. But then Durant showed just how aggressive he can be, coming out firing and netting six quick points against Spain.
Durant has become the talk of the league this summer, and with Team USA he has lived up to his billing as the game's newest great player. It's now become as difficult as ever to discern which is more impressive, Durant's abilities or his attitude. Despite more and more accolades coming his way, Durant still doesn't mind deferring and deflecting attention to teammates. That trait will continue to endear Durant to his customary supporting cast in Oklahoma City and suggests Durant will make the smart play during the season rather than forcing his way to being the hero.
It's all coming together for Durant, whose growth in the past month alone has been great. Expect the next three weeks to provide even more preparation.
"Kevin wants to be an outstanding player," Krzyzewski told reporters before the team traveled to Spain. "He wants to be the best. So being in this environment with this caliber of player, how he asserts himself here in a different environment will help him even more when he goes back to his current environment."