Kevin Durant scored 23 points and Devin Booker added 20 to power three-time defending champions United States past Australia 97-78 yesterday and into an Olympic men’s basketball final against France.
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. They will face two-time runners-up France, who upset them in the group phase, in tomorrow’s showdown after the world number seven battled past Olympic debutants Slovenia 90-89 in a thriller. Nando De Colo poured in a game-best 25 points and Boston Celtics’ Evan Fournier added 23 to give their team a third crack at upsetting the US after failing to do so in their two previous Olympic finals in 1948 and 2000.
Beating Australia was revenge for the USA who had crashed to Patty Mills’ Boomers in their past two meetings, including a demoralising 91-83 defeat in Las Vegas last month. But when it comes to the Olympics the US are dominant and stretched their lead over their long-time foes at the Games to 9-0. “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, have never finished on the Olympic podium 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 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 with a shock defeat to France but have slowly found their groove, with Durant 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.
The Boomers’ 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.
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