A triple-double from LeBron James (Miami Heat) and 20 points from Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), including four straight 3-pointers in a 67-second span in the fourth quarter, helped the U.S Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (6-0) overpower Australia (3-3) 119-86 to advance to the semifinals of the 2012 Olympic Games on Wednesday night at the North Greenwich Arena in London, England.
The USA will face Argentina (4-2), which topped Brazil (4-2) 82-77 to advance, in the semifinals at 9 p.m. (4 p.m EDT) on Aug. 10. The USA previously beat Argentina 126-97 in its final preliminary round game on Aug. 6, as well as in exhibition play, 86-80, on July 22 in Barcelona, Spain.
“We knew that we were going to play a very athletic, quick, well-coached team in Australia, who were coming off a couple of big wins,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University). “They pushed the ball down the court against us well. I thought we played well in the first half, except for we didn’t get back sometimes and they got about 10-12 points in transition.
“We got off to a horrible start in the second-half, and I am proud of my guys because we were playing well in the first-half, got that bad start and then they played great. The offensive rebounding was a key factor. Kevin Love had eight offensive rebounds and our defense picked up. Kobe made a couple big defensive plays that went to the offensive end, and we kind of exploded there,” added Coach K.
James finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists for the first triple-double in U.S. Olympic history (since assists were kept as an official statistic in 1976), and his 12 assists tied the U.S. Olympic single-game high. Additionally, shooting 19-of-46 from 3-point, the USA tied its U.S. Olympic record of 46 3-point attempts, which it set on Aug. 2 against Nigeria.
While the final score was a 35-point blowout, Australia was down by just 14 points at the start of the fourth quarter. Three of Bryant’s four 3-pointers came off of assists from James.
“I’m proud of the win, that’s all that matters to me,” James said. “I don’t really care about me statistically. The win is more important; I’m happy to be able to move on.”
Rounding out five U.S. players in double digits were Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets) with 18 points and 7-of-7 shooting from the free throw line; 17 points from Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks); 14 points from Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder); and a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double from Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves).
“On this team you really get a lot of easy shots because you play with a lot of really good players,” said Bryant who connected on 6-of-10 3-pointers in the game. “I just found myself in a really good rhythm with some daylight to shoot the ball, and they were going in for me.”
Durant opened the game with a 3-pointer and both teams sank two threes in the first two minutes to help bring the score to an 8-8 tie at 8:01. The score again was tied at 10-10 and 12-12 before the USA gained some distance with free throws from James, a fast break bucket from Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and a three-point play from James that left the USA ahead 19-12 at 4:08. After two scores from Australia, the USA put together another run, this time a 7-0 stretch to grab control 26-16 following bonus free throws from Williams at 1:09. Westbrook sank two more free throws to help counter five points form Australia, and despite not scoring from the field in the last 2:39 of the first quarter, the USA led 28-21.
Durant also opened the second period with a 3-pointer, and the U.S. lead had reached 12 points, 39-27, when Williams connected from deep at 7:32. Australia fought back and closed within eight points several times before Krzyzewski called a timeout at 4:37 with the USA leading 44-36. Anthony sank a 3-pointer out of the break, and the USA outscored Australia 12-6 to take a 56-42 lead into the halftime locker room.
Australia once again rallied and went on an 11-0 run to open the second half and cut the distance to three points, 56-53 after consecutive 3-pointers from Australia’s Joe Ingles. Durant ended the drought with a 3-pointer at 7:56, and with the lead at five points, 63-58 at 6:01, a James’ free throw was followed by consecutive 3-pointers from Bryant, and then a three-point play from James that helped restore a 14-point margin, 72-58, at 4:12. Each team scored 12 more points in the stanza before the third quarter buzzer sounded with the score at 84-70.
“We knew they were going to come out and play tougher; they hit some shots,” Durant said. “But I think we did a great job of responding to that run and making our own little run as well. We got back up by 14 and kind of cruised from there.”
Australia trailed 96-80 in the fourth quarter before Bryant completely put the game out of reach. Knocking in his first 3-pointer of the quarter at 5:50, he followed that up with threes at 5:14, 4:57 and 4:43. Overall, it was the start of a 16-8 run that ended the game with the USA securing a 119-86 win.
Australia was whistled for 30 personal fouls in the game, helping the USA to finish 22-of-32 (.689) from the free throw line. The USA also owned a 52-42 advantage on the glass.
San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills lead Australia with 26 points.
Also today, Russia (5-1) beat Lithuania (2-4) 83-74 to move on to the semifinals, where it will meet Spain (4-2), which topped France (4-2) 66-59 to advance. The bronze and gold medal games will be played at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (6 a.m. and 10 a.m.), respectively, on Aug. 12.
“It’s somewhat of a rivalry. I definitely think so,” Paul said of the USA’s semifinal opponent Argentina. “This will be our third time playing them in the last two or three weeks. We’ve got to get out to a good start. They are going to have their crowd behind them and we’ve got to come out and impose our will.”
Krzyzewski is assisted on the USA bench by Syracuse University and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and former NBA head coaches Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillan.