Team USA wins (and celebrates) big

MADRID -- Mike Krzyzewski knew exactly how he wanted to celebrate. As soon as he made it back to Team USA's locker room, Coach K reached for his phone. To call Paul George.

Krzyzewski's players, meanwhile, could be seen hugging, strutting and dancing incessantly in various corners of the building Sunday night, savoring every second of a gold-medal ride that, judging by the pride and joy they displayed, wasn't nearly the cakewalk that the Americans' stack of nine lopsided box scores would suggest.

"PG, this is for you," Team USA forward Rudy Gay told the ESPN camera, joining in the tributes to the fallen George as he cradled the championship trophy from the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Those were among the enriching scenes late Sunday at the Palacio de Deportes, where the Americans overcame their usual slow start to utterly steamroll Serbia 129-92 in the World Cup title game and set themselves up to party deep into the Madrid night.

You could lament the lack of competition Team USA faced here. You could question how many people back home were really going to tune into another Team USA rout on the NFL's day. Yet you had to be moved, if you were really watching those in the USA Basketball traveling party, to see how much it meant to these supposed second-stringers to win this tournament so convincingly, with such flair, in becoming the first nation in FIBA history to win four successive major international titles.

That said ...

You also unavoidably came away from this demolition asking yourself: Can a solitary evening of basketball be dazzling, inspiring and yet somehow a touch demoralizing, too?

If so, this was the one.

The Americans legitimately did dazzle in their farewell to Espana. Kyrie Irving and James Harden channeled their best Kevin Durant to combine for 49 points and rained 3-pointers all over the helpless Serbs, ultimately supplementing DeMarcus Cousins' momentum-changing presence inside to finally take over a game with outside shooting and turn Team USA's biggest deficit of the tournament -- eight points -- into an eventual 31-point lead before the first half was over.

The inspiration, again, stems from seeing how much this group cared on top of the flair. How this group came together to such a degree in a span of six weeks to become something resembling a true team, after all that fretting and skepticism about what might have happened in Sunday's final had they been forced to play ultra-seasoned Spain on Spanish hardwood with so many key names missing.

"We didn't care who we didn't have," Cousins told ESPN. "We went with the guys we did have and came out champions."

Said Irving: "It's the greatest feeling in the world right now, [winning] with a group of guys that are my brothers."

It was nonetheless unavoidable for the basketball neutral, as introduced in this cyberspace a few days back, to come away from this tournament feeling as though the gap between the United States and the rest of the world is actually widening when it should be shrinking.

No one out there seems capable of even pushing the Americans at the moment, which is obviously the disheartening part for a sport we hoped had at least a hint of parity by now.

Especially when another 10 or so top Americans either stayed home or, like the luckless George, were forced to.

This was the youngest and purportedly most vulnerable squad USA Basketball had assembled in the Dream Team era. Krzyzewski himself admitted that, until Irving and Harden went off in the title game, this edition of Team USA "had to invent new ways to score" after Durant removed himself from the roster and took much of the intended offense with him. Ball pressure to create turnovers and offensive rebounds to generate extra possessions became the go-to sources of point production for this group, which didn't have anyone scoring better than Harden's 13.1 points per game -- and thus no clear-cut MVP candidate -- until Irving did what he did in the title game.

Yet there was no foe in the 24-team field that could come close to taking advantage. Team USA's early 15-7 deficit to Serbia was its biggest deficit of the tournament and obviously didn't last long. The Yanks' average margin of victory wound up at a robust 33.0 points per game. A 21-point win over Turkey, in which they trailed by five points at halftime, was the Americans' smallest W here.

"It was not easy," Krzyzewski insisted afterward in a chat with ESPN.

He went on to say at his postgame news conference: "I think the results [look] dominant, but we had [only] spurts of dominance in a lot of games. And we had tough games and then all of a sudden we'd have a spurt and it looked like we dominated."

It's not Krzyzewski's responsibility, mind you, to worry about the rest of the world keeping up. As covered here Saturday, he's expected to win every single game he coaches at the national-team level no matter who is in uniform, whether or not that's realistic. And that's enough to focus on. With this team, specifically, it was his job to absorb as much of that win-'em-all pressure as he could and offset the utter lack of experience for key figures like Cousins and Irving, who had combined to appear in zero NBA playoff games leading into Sunday's starring roles.

It would appear he achieved all of the above.

Apart from one technical foul and rush of blood against Lithuania in the semis, Cousins never came close to the international incident skeptics were sure would ensnare him. There were no Derrick Rose catastrophes for the rehabbing MVP, either, nor did Team USA suffer from the fact it lacked a clear-cut No. 1 option to go to until Irving's well-timed eruption to deliver 26 against the Serbs to go with Captain Harden's 23.

"It was not like there was one star," Krzyzewski said. "[But] they were a championship team and it was kind of cool. In 2010, Durant just kind of took us. He had an amazing performance. Teamwise this is a heck of a team. This was a really good team."

Too good to be stopped by the competition here. Nothing slowed the Americans down until it was over, when, in the midst of all the celebrating, famed NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein managed to make his way through the security maze -- as if he were wearing his all-access pass from the States -- to get all the way to the Team USA door.

Which prompted several giddy Team USAers to bring an immediate halt to what they were doing to ask Goldstein to take pictures with them.

See? They're a playful bunch unless you're playing against them.

"With all the interruptions that we've had, who you think you're gonna be and who you're gonna have and all of a sudden you don't have 'em ... these guys ran a steady race the whole time," Krzyzewski said. "I'm so happy for these players."

Said USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo: "I said previously [that] if we were to have won this year, with all of the adversity that we went through, [that] this would be the sweetest of all of the [major] championships. And I [still] feel that way.

"The amazing thing about all that has happened is that we have used so many different players to win these championships, which is a testament to the game in our country and the depth of talent that we have. ... Tonight's performance was like a culmination of all of that development, because we have been waiting for a game where we just blow it out. And that's exactly what happened."

A finale against the Spaniards, in front of a raucous full house, surely would have been a more memorable happening. ‎But the least we can do is let these Team USA guys enjoy their moment.

Since you know we'd be tripping over each other to let them have it if it didn't play out as smoothly as it did.