SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) -Kevin Durant and Team USA trounced Australia on Thursday in the men’s basketball semi-finals and will play for their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal when they take on France in the final.
The Americans overcame an early deficit and ran away with the game for a 97-78 rout, while France needed a blocked shot in the final second to edge Slovenia.
Saturday’s gold-medal matchup gives the NBA star-filled squad a chance to avenge its lone loss in these Games.
Team USA’s semi-final was also a measure of revenge against a team that had upset them at an exhibition game in Las Vegas last month.
The Americans, champions at the previous three Games, got off to a rocky start, shooting poorly and racking up fouls that let Australia build a 15-point lead in the second quarter.
The United States rallied in the second half, opening with 12 unanswered points. A barrage of three-pointers and dunks widened the gap to 19 points by the final buzzer.
“I’ve got to give credit to Australia, they came out and hit us with a nice haymaker,” said Durant, who in these Games surpassed Carmelo Anthony as Team USA’s highest career Olympic scorer.
“We were able to get some momentum going to the half. Guys came out with that intensity, man, we made shots as well,” the Brooklyn Nets star said. “I feel like everything aligned for us in that second half, and that’s who we are.”
Athletes, officials and volunteers filled out the stands of the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo, in the absence of paying spectators due to COVID-19 restrictions. An Australian contingent pounded drums and a tambourine to cheer their team.
The Americans have historically been the team to beat, with 15 men’s basketball gold medals since 1936.
But the team in Tokyo has proven to be vulnerable, dropping two-straight exhibition games in July and suffering their first Olympic defeat https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/basketball-czech-republic-beat-iran-basketball-begins-tokyo-2021-07-25 since 2004 against France earlier in the event.
But it all came together in the semi-finals, Durant leading the way with 23 points. Three of his teammates also scored in double figures.
“They got a lot of firepower,” said Australia’s Matisse Thybulle, who plays for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
“We knew that if we gave them an inch they’d be able to take a mile, so that’s really just what happened.”
Slovenia’s Luka Doncic of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks had a triple double – 16 points, 18 assists and 10 rebounds – but came up just short in a nail biter against France.
With time running out, France’s Nicolas Batum batted away a layup from Slovenia’s Klemen Prepelic that could have put them ahead and Rudy Gobert grabbed the ball to secure a 90-89 win.
“Out of nowhere, Batum just gets a block and Rudy gets a rebound, which was big time,” said Evan Fournier, who had 23 points for France before fouling out. “What a crazy game.”
Slovenia, making their first Olympic basketball appearance, will play for the bronze medal against Australia on Saturday.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Bill Berkrot)