Team USA saves its best for last

— -- RIO DE JANEIRO -- It had the sound, from an omen perspective, of the flat-out wrong address. A booking gone bad.

Housing all those famous faces from the NBA on a luxury cruise liner called The Silver Cloud?

At the Olympics?

You were moved to question the wisdom of that choice once or twice in the early stages Sunday, when stubborn Serbia managed to hang with mighty Team USA for a quarter at Carioca Arena 1. You couldn't help but think: Imagine the storms and ridicule that would greet the Americans if they only managed to bring silver home from these Rio Games.

And then Kevin Durant, turning ruthless in the last game we'll see him play before he starts his new under-the-microscope life with the increasingly villainous Golden State Warriors, staged a hostile international takeover to make you laugh at yourself for wasting any brain cells on the idea.

There would be no storms, or lasting fears of silver, on this afternoon. The Americans ultimately rolled in a 96-66 rout, with Durant erupting for 24 of his 30 points by halftime -- 15 of them in the second quarter -- to turn an edgy 19-15 game after a period into a 23-point laugher at the break.

Five mostly d-e-e-p 3s from Durant in the first half, with a couple of memorable dunks thrown in, put KD on a path to match his 30 points from the gold-medal game in London 2012, essentially clinched a record third gold medal for teammate Carmelo Anthony before the second half and ensured that Mike Krzyzewski would bid farewell to the international game with a 76-game winning streak to take back to Duke.

Best of all, Durant made the Americans' final hours on Brazilian soil their most comfortable of the whole trip.

What followed after the break was a predictable in-game party for the Americans, with Durant eventually serving as head cheerleader at the end thanks to a lead that stretched as high as 41 points, all of which banished the memories of those nervy three single-digit victories in their first seven games here.

"We were pissed going into the locker room," Durant said the other day, reflecting on Serbia's near upset of the tournament's overwhelming favorites in group play on Aug. 12. "Not because we wanted to blow every team out. Just because we didn't play well at all.

"But now I'm just like, 'Hey, man, if we lose this game, we lose it.' If we win it, then great, we move on. That helps me. It may not help other players, but it helps me. I've just embraced who I am as a basketball player."

He truly couldn't have looked more comfortable in his last act on the Rio stage. A summer that began with U.S. players loathing the Molten brown-and-white ball used in international play and struggling to adjust to the slightly shorter 3-point line came to a close with Durant routinely squaring up from far beyond NBA range and hitting triple after triple.

This one changed completely once Krzyzewski put reserves Paul George, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins around Durant. The Serbs couldn't cope with their length and athleticism and pressure on the ball, then watched helplessly as Durant sailed in for a slam and a 45-25 cushion when multiple defenders rushed out to try to crowd him on the perimeter.

Making 3s was the Serbs' only realistic shot of hanging in?, but they were hounded into fatal 4-for-24 shooting from deep. Any remaining hope was snuffed out by Team USA's crushing 54-33 edge on the boards.

As Durant said after the Yanks' semifinal win over Spain: "We've got two lineups -- guys who can just score and we got energy lineups -- and we mix them together pretty well."

Team Energy doomed the runners-up this time, with Cousins (11 of his 13 points in the first half) causing plenty of trouble himself while his Serbian boss -- Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac -- watched helplessly himself from the stands.

Anthony was scoreless in the first half and managed just seven points in the finale, but it never mattered. The rout was on and allowed Team USA to fly home Sunday night with a passable average victory margin of 22.5 for the tournament after its struggles in pool play.

"We never said we was gonna run through everybody," Anthony told ESPN earlier in the tournament. "We never said that we was gonna win every game by 30 or 40. The games that we do, we do. The games that we don't, we don't."

Serbia, truth be told, was surely fearful that it would fall in the "do" category of routs, since many international teams quietly subscribe to the theory that, in tournaments such as these, you're only going to get one real shot to beat the Americans. No matter who they bring.

It's why there were certifiable murmurs that Australia, after such a great start in Group A, was legitimately weighing the prospect of playing its NBAers limited minutes in the second half of its Aug. 10 encounter with Team USA, believing that it might be better to save its supposed best for a potential rematch in the medal round.

Turns out that the Aussies never got that second chance after getting unexpectedly smoked by Serbia in the semis, while the Serbs went on to validate the one-shot-only theory by steadily fading away once Durant got hot, turning this into a virtual rerun of the 2014 FIBA World Cup final in Spain that Team USA won by 37.

How will this incarnation of the U.S. national team be remembered? Too soon to say.

Yet it was clear on the U.S. bench at the end, amid a hearty round of hugs for Anthony once the expected medal shade of gold began to sink in, that Krzyzewski was as fond of this group as any of the squads that preceded it.

"It's been the ultimate honor of my life in coaching," Coach K said this week, "and I've coached for 41 years."