ISTANBUL // Kevin Durant carried the United States into the final at the world basketball championships, scoring a US-record 38 points in an 89-74 victory over Lithuania last night. With a special September 11 anniversary message on his sneakers, Durant soared over defenders or stepped away from them for three-pointers, scoring 17 in the first quarter to stake the Americans to an early lead that was never seriously challenged.
He went on to surpass Carmelo Anthony's single-game record of 35 points in the world championships and raise his scoring average in the tournament to 22.1, which would be the best by an American player. More importantly, he guaranteed the Americans a chance at their first world title since 1994. They will play Turkey or Serbia today. There was some doubt this US team was the one that could end the drought after all the superstars from the 2008 Olympic gold medal-winning team, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, declined to play this summer.
But Durant, the rising star of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, kept saying yes, and he is on the verge of going down as the most accomplished US player here.Lamar Odom added 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Andre Iguodala led the defensive effort that took the Lithuania star Linas Kleiza out of the game. Robertas Javtokas had 15 points and nine rebounds for Lithuania, which lost for the first time and will play for bronze.
Kleiza, who was averaging 19.1 points, was limited to four points on 1-of-11 shooting. Durant dominated the first quarter, shooting at the basket in front of section 324, which was completely awash in Lithuania green and had fans banging drums and waving flags. The teams met last month in an exhibition game in Madrid, and the US made just three of 21 shots in the first quarter before rallying for a 77-61 victory.
There would be no slow start this time. Lithuania led by two midway through the first quarter before Durant seized the game, showing off his repertoire. First there was a dunk, followed by a three-point play and two free throws. Iguodala briefly interrupted the Durant show with a dunk, then Durant scored on a follow shot and made a three-pointer. In just three-and-a-half minutes, he had taken the US from down two to up 10, and Lithuania never really recovered.
* Associated Press