Australia’s chase to finally win an Olympic medal continued against Team USA in the Olympic basketball semifinals, and their current team probably had the best chance of successfully making the gold medal round.
Filled with current and former NBA talent like Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Jock Landale, Matisse Thybulle, Dante Exum, and the injured Aron Baynes, this version of the Boomers is probably the most dangerous squad that they’ve ever brought to the Olympics.
Kevin Durant opened the scoring for the game with a signature jumper, but Joe Ingles quickly responded to take the lead with a pair of threes – setting the tone for the game.
Team USA played a lot of pressure defense from the get-go, picking their men up almost as soon as they crossed the half-court line. That didn’t deter Australia, who elected to play a zone defense in the early goings.
Both teams shot badly to start, and halfway through the first quarter the score was low with Australia holding an 11-6 advantage with 5:07 left in the period.
The Australians continued to get the better of the Americans in the rest of the first period, even pushing their lead to 18-10 after an easy bucket from Nic Kay.
Kevin Durant, as he’s done for so many years in the NBA, carried his team with 8 points and was the main reason the Americans were able to keep it close. However, Team USA found themselves behind 24-18 after the first quarter.
Frustration seemed to get the better of Khris Middleton early in the second quarter, as he missed a dunk and then fouled Chris Goulding on a long three-point attempt. Goulding sank two of three free throws to push the lead to Australia’s largest of the game thus far at 29-20.
Australia, who stuck with their plan with the zone defense, did let a few drives in, but harassed Team USA into taking a lot of tough shots later in the shot clock. They were able to double-team the Americans consistently and not allow that many easy baskets.
Australia pushed the lead to double-digits with 6:43 left in the second quarter, but Kevin Durant quickly answered with a three-point play. A Dante Exum three pushed the lead to 36-26, and then a fast break and three-point play from Thybulle pushed it to 39-26. The Americans turned it over again on the next possession, forcing a desperate timeout from Team USA as their deficit ballooned to 41-26.
Team USA continued to be stuck in ‘Watch Kevin Durant’ mode after that timeout, with the rest of the team often simply standing around as KD tried to force his will on the game.
Team USA finally cut it back to single digits late in the second quarter, and unfortunately for the Australians key bench player Exum was forced to sit after a hard fall. The Americans finally got their stride going in the end of the half, too, and they cut the deficit to 45-42 heading into the second half.
After only hitting 2 of 13 three-pointers in the first half, that deficit wouldn’t have been a huge worry for the Team USA, who are always capable of getting hot from the field due to the overwhelming number of All-Stars on their squad. Durant finished the half leading all scorers with 15 points.
It was clear, too, that the tough defense the Boomers were playing tired them out in the first half.
The second half started well for Team USA, and they started with a 12-0 run to grab a 54-45 lead as Durant continued his scoring barrage. Australia didn’t score their first points until there were six minutes left in the third quarter.
With Team USA leading 59-50, the Boomers were forced to take a timeout with 4:34 left in the third quarter to get a breather and try to stop the momentum.
That bad first half shooting from deep went away for the Americans in the third quarter Devin Booker started to heat up and make threes to support Durant’s scoring.
By the time the third quarter ended, Team USA had pushed their lead to 74-55. That was a stunning 34-point turnaround from being down 15 in the second quarter. They made the necessary adjustments at the half, and Australia’s zone defense started to fail them as they continued to fatigue. Booker outscored the Boomers by himself in that pivotal third quarter.
As I mentioned earlier, Team USA weren’t going to be worried about being down three points after shooting so badly in the first half. As soon as they started to drop, Australia simply couldn’t do anything to get back into the game. The contest was effectively over after that third quarter.
The Boomers deserve credit for playing hard, but the zone defense they played is also murderous on the lungs. When they were spent, and Team USA had adjusted, it simply became unsustainable. They didn’t have the luxury of having a bench full of top-tier NBA players, and the difference in quality showed.
Australia’s starters sat for good with 3:59 left in the game, looking completely gassed. They put up a good battle, but simply couldn’t keep up through four quarters. They’ll still be hoping to get a bronze, though, as they’ll take on the winner of the game between France and Slovenia.
Team USA, on the other hand, will be heading into the gold medal game brimming with confidence. For the second game in a row, they overcame early adversity and put up an unstoppable performance to close out the game 97-78.
Durant led all scorers with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. He also played some tough defense with 2 steals and 1 block plus a number of great shot contests. Booker also had a great game, shooting 7 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from beyond the arc to finish with 20 points.
NBA Champion Jrue Holiday had another great all-around game with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. His title-winning teammate, Khris Middleton, also chipped in 11 points.