The US survived a spirited comeback from world champions Spain to win 86-85 in a thrilling warm-up game on Sunday, sending out a warning to their rivals ahead of the world championships.
The Olympic gold medallists have set out for Turkey with a side shorn of big names such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade who starred in Beijing.
However, the young replacements showed their mettle in a hostile Madrid against a more experienced side, who narrowly lost out on gold in China.
Guard Kevin Durant led the way with game-high 25 points and eight rebounds, closely supported by Derrick Rose and Lamar Odom who sank 13 and 12 points apiece.
Juan Carlos Navarro topped the scoring for the hosts with 20 points backed by Marc Gasol and Felipe Reyes who notched 17 and 16 each.
“It was a great game and a great crowd. Two excellent teams who played to their max,” US coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters.
“Fortunately we had one more play than them. I feel lucky to have won. We started with a different line up and that was really what we wanted tonight, to take a better look at our players,” Krzyzewski said.
Spain perhaps missed the influence of Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who was watching from the stands after ruling himself out of the trip to Turkey.
The MVP from the last world championships was sitting just behind the world’s most expensive soccer player, Portugal and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo in the packed arena.
The US labored past Lithuania 77-61 on Saturday, a side Spain swept aside 94-75 the day before, but they were much quicker into their game, aggressively closing down their hosts and preventing them from scoring until almost the five-minute mark.
Durant and Rose spearheaded their charge to a 23-16 first period lead as Spain’s passes were as wayward as their shooting and the visitors extended the lead to 12 at the break.
Navarro took Spain to within two points at 55-53 midway through the third as the locals threatened a comeback, but Durant sank a breakaway at the end of the third to restore an 11-point advantage going into the final period.
Once again Spain came back though with Ricky Rubio and Navarro at the helm, the latter drawing them level at 80 apiece with two minutes to go.
However, Rose held his nerve amid a raucous local crowd to take the game from the free-throw line in the final seconds.
“This has been a great experience for us against one of the best teams in the world,” game MVP Durant told reporters. “I’m pleased with my contribution ... and the way the team stuck together.”
The US have one more tune-up game against Greece in Athens tomorrow before the world championships get underway in Turkey on Saturday.
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