By BRIAN MAHONEY LONDON (AP) -- As the shot fell through the net, Kobe Bryant held up three fingers on each hand. It was his third straight 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, enough for the U.S. men's Olympic team to finally put away stubborn Australia. Yes, all's fine with Bryant, and the Americans' gold medal hopes, as well. Bryant silenced his critics and broke open a tight game with six 3-pointers in the second half Wednesday night as the U.S. advanced to the semifinals of the London Games with a 119-86 victory over Australia. "Somebody made him mad. I could see it in his eyes," American Kevin Durant said. "I wanted him to kind of turn it on and that's what he did." On a night when LeBron James had the first Olympic triple-double by a U.S. player, the story was Bryant's awakening from his Olympic slumber. The five-time NBA champion has even said this team could have beaten the Dream Team, and on the 20th anniversary of that squad's gold-medal win, he put on the kind of show that makes his claim hard to dismiss. Bryant scored all of his 20 points after halftime, finally delivering the kind of game expected of him in London. He had insisted his time would come, and none of his teammates ever doubted it. "I kind of knew what button to push with him. I was talking to him at halftime and in the third quarter and I guess I pushed the button. He woke up and to see that, I've been on the other side of the ball and had that situation before," teammate Carmelo Anthony said. Bryant, a top-five scorer in NBA history, brushed away Anthony's attempts to take credit as easily as the questions he's been hearing in London. "He was just saying, 'Let's see what we see during the season.' But by that point, I was already revved up," Bryant said. James had 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists for the Americans, who advanced to their third straight Olympic semifinal meeting with Argentina, which beat Brazil earlier Wednesday. Deron Williams added 18 points, Anthony had 17 and Durant 14. The Americans beat the Argentines 126-97 on Monday in the final game of pool play, yet another night they didn't need much from Bryant, who came in averaging just 9.4 points and hearing whispers that something must be wrong with him, though both he and his teammates kept assuring people there was no problem. This time was different -- eventually -- after Bryant misfired on all four shots in the first half. "Just kind of searching for something to get me going, for something that would activate the Black Mamba, as Coach calls it," Bryant said. That came when Australia scored the first 11 points of the second half, cutting the Americans' lead to three after back-to-back 3-pointers by Joe Ingles. The U.S. lead was only six before Bryant, who had never gotten in an offensive rhythm in London and just minutes earlier had committed another puzzling offensive foul, finally broke out. He made a 3-pointer, then batted away a pass, chased it down along the left sideline and pulled up for another 3 that made it 70-58. James followed with a basket that pushed it to 14, and the Americans never let the Australians get much closer. Bryant made sure of it. He finished 6 of 10 behind the arc, making three straight in the fourth quarter as part of a 17-2 run to blow it open, the crowd chanting "Kobe! Kobe!" before he finally missed on a ridiculously long attempt before calling it a night. Patty Mills scored 26 points and Ingles had 19 for Australia, which had the misfortune of running into the U.S. in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics. "The difference in the game was their transition buckets and 3-pointers, and Kobe got a little bit sniff," Mills said. "And for great teams, that's all they need and they stretch it out." Even the Australian fans were cheering for Bryant as he walked to the locker room after a postgame interview. First, he knocked fists with the Aussies' kangaroo mascot, wearing boxing gloves on his hands. Bryant sure knocked out the Australians. Bodies fell and blood flowed in a physical first half, the Americans taking plenty of hits but delivering them as well, such as the one that sent Australia's David Barlow to the bench with a bloody nose that took a while to control. But the spirited play brought out the best in Bryant, who insists he's content taking a lesser role with other, much younger scorers such as James, Durant and Anthony willing to carry the load. He said the same things in Beijing and came through with 20 points in the gold-medal game, so the Americans know they can count on him to rise to a challenge. They expect another one from Argentina, which beat the U.S. in 2004 on its way to the gold medal, a loss the Americans avenged before winning gold in Beijing. Russia plays Spain in the other semifinal. The crowd on the first night of action at the North Greenwich Arena included NBA Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who have said they may prefer the Olympics be limited to players 23 and younger in the future. First, they saw why fans want to keep seeing America's best -- and what everyone expected from Bryant all along. "You see it all the time, but that was the first time we've seen it here," Durant said. "He got so upset and when he does that he's in another world."
Every week during the 2017 Redskins season, NBC Sports Washington found two Redskins fans in the crowd and paired them in a head-to-head matchup on Twitter to determine the fan of the game.
And now that the season is over, it's time to take each of those winners, throw them into a NCAA Tournament-style bracket and let Twitter pick the Redskins Fan of the Year.
Starting on January 8 over on the @NBCSRedskins Twitter account, one matchup a day will be posted at 11 a.m., and fans will have 24 hours to vote for their favorite supporter by retweeting or liking depending on their preference. Week 1's winner will face off with Week 17's, Week 2's will play Week 16's, etc.
The winners will advance, and eventually, one member of the Burgundy and Gold faithful will stand above all the rest, earning the coveted title of Redskins Fan of the Year.
Check out the results below, which'll be updated every day. To see the tweet that corresponded with each matchup, click the link after the date, but remember, retweets and likes submitted after the 24-hour period won't be counted.
ELITE 8 RESULTS
January 18: Round two, matchup one
The first Elite 8 matchup was... not close:
January 19: Round two, matchup two
The Elite 8's second tilt is underway. Vote now:
FIRST ROUND RESULTS
January 8: Round one, matchup one
This was a close one that came down to the last-minute, but at the 24-hour mark, Week 17's winner garnered justtttttttt enough retweets to move on.
January 9: Round one, matchup two
In this tournament, a giant Redskins chain is apparently worth more than a giant football hat.
January 10: Round one, matchup three
In the tournament's third showdown, we have our first winner from the Likes side:
January 11: Round one, matchup four
Was there anyway she wasn't gonna win, especially with the little Hogettes nose?
January 12: Round one, matchup five
Our fifth matchup's winner earned the most retweets of anyone up to this point:
January 15: Round one, matchup six
These three 'Skins fans had to witness Washington's Thursday night flop in Dallas, so it's only fair that they get to advance to the second round:
January 16: Round one, matchup seven
You'd think a turkey hat would be enough to capture a W, but not in this one:
January 17: Round one, matchup eight
The Elite 8 is now set with this showdown going to the retweets side:
Former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan was on a Denver radio station recently.
In case you haven’t heard, many Broncos fans are very anxious for their team to bring in Kirk Cousins to be their quarterback. They likely were looking for McCloughan, who was the GM in Washington for the first two years that Cousins was the starter, to give the QB a ringing endorsement.
They didn’t get one.
“He’s a good player,” McCloughan said on 104.3 The Fan (via Mile High Huddle). “Is he special? I don’t see special.”
For the Broncos, “good” would be an improvement. They got starts from Trevor Simeon, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch last year. All three of them had passer ratings in the low 70’s and as a group, they threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
But the issue is that Cousins is likely to command a contract that is more in the range of “special” quarterbacks. He may not get the $30 million per year free agent deal that is being talked about, but his next deal won’t be too far south of it.
McCloughan said that they were trying to help Cousins succeed.
MORE REDSKINS: REDSKINS CORE DEFENSE 2021
“We were still building a roster around him to make him special,” he said.
He said that Cousins is talented, and he works hard but he needs more to make a team successful.
“You just need to have some talent around him because you don’t want him to be throwing the ball 35-40 times to win the game,” McCloughan said.
“You want to have a running game and have a good defense, good teams. And then let him do what he does.”
But the question is, can you pay Cousins, say, $27 million per year, a salary that would be about 15 percent of this year’s salary cap, and still be able to afford to build that running game and defense? Will the team signing him be able to bring in free agents to bolster weak areas and re-sign its home-grown talent?
That is what John Elway, who calls the shots in Denver, will have to figure out. Cousins is not the only possible solution to the Broncos’ QB problem.
They have the No. 5 pick in the draft and a prime quarterback prospect is likely to be available. That would be a lower-cost option, but even highly-drafted quarterbacks don’t always work out. Elway might prefer the relative certainty of going with a more proven commodity like Cousins.
Of course, the Redskins face the same dilemma. Their attempts to lock up Cousins really haven’t gone anywhere in part because they seem to be reluctant to pay elite quarterback money to a player who is, according to the man who lobbied for Cousins to get the starting job, good but not special.
The chances are that when free agency starts up in mid-March some team will give him the big deal (assuming the Redskins don’t hit him with the $35 million franchise tag) and gamble that they can make the rest of it work. We will see if it’s the Broncos, Redskins or another team.
RELATED: NFL MOCK DRAFT 4.0