Durant-led USA ousts Australia, advances to gold medal match
Kevin Durant scored 23 points and Devin Booker added 20 to power three-time defending champions United States past Australia 97-78 Thursday and into an Olympic men’s basketball final against either France or Slovenia.
The Americans were 24-18 behind after the first quarter and 45-42 adrift at halfway, but stormed back during a dominant third term to stay on track for a fourth consecutive gold medal.
It was revenge for Gregg Popovich’s men who had crashed to Patty Mills’ Boomers in their past two meetings, including a demoralizing 91-83 defeat in Las Vegas last month.
They also lost 98-94 in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup in Melbourne.
But when it comes to the Olympics the US is dominant and stretched its lead over its long-time foe at the Games to 9-0, crushing Australia’s title dreams.
“We knew Australia would come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early, see how we respond,” said the Brooklyn Nets’ Durant.
“We stuck with it, stuck with our principles, made a couple of switches on defence, and we were able to get some momentum going into the (second) half. Guys came out with that intensity, making shots as well.
“We’ve been down 15 in games before and came back,” he added. “It don’t matter what level it was at, or where it’s at. A lot of guys have been in that position before. We know how to handle ourselves.”
Australia, the world’s third-ranked team, has never finished on the Olympic podium despite boasting some of the best players in the world, playing in the top leagues.
And they now face another bronze medal match, having contested four previously and lost the lot.
“A medal’s still what we came here to do, even though it’s not going to be gold or silver,” said their disappointed Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle.
“Bronze is going to be the first ever for Australia so that’s still a really big deal for us and we still have a lot to fight for.”
The Americans opened their Olympic campaign at Saitama Super Arena with a shock defeat to France but have slowly found their groove, with Durant again pacing their offense.
He was averaging 18 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game heading into the semi-final and once more proved authoritative, with the USA’s all-time top Olympic scorer adding nine rebounds and two assists.
San Antonio Spurs’ Mills poured in 15 points for Australia and Dante Exum chipped in 14.
The Boomers’ Utah Jazz centre Joe Ingles sunk seven points, including two 3-pointers, in the first quarter to send his team into the second period with a six-point cushion.
Outside the arc shooting had been US team’s primary weapon in Japan, but they struggled early against the Australians, with Phoenix Sun guard Booker only nailing their first seven minutes into the second quarter.
The Boomers opened a 15-point lead as they took charge on the fast-break, but another three-pointer, this time from Jayson Tatum, helped pull the US back into contention to be 45-42 down at half-time.
The reigning champions then blew the game open in the third quarter, dominating it 32-10, taking the lead for the first time since the opening minute when Damian Lillard nailed two points inside the paint as part of a 12-point run.
It helped open a 19-point buffer going into the final stretch and they never looked back.