For a moment, it looked as if Australia would finally get the best of Team USA at the Olympics.
But the Americans rather impressively flipped a 15-point first-half deficit into a resounding 97-78 victory in the semifinals, avenging an exhibition round defeat to the Aussies and earning themselves a berth in the gold medal match.
Here are three observations from the rout:
Kevin Durant vs. The World
Durant was just about the only player keeping Team USA afloat in a first half that saw the Australians build as much as a 15-point lead. Fresh off a 29-point effort in the quarterfinals, he poured in 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting in the game’s first two quarters via an array of contested floaters and fadeaways.
Then, he keyed a 12-0 USA run to begin the third by converting a 3-point play, sinking another pull-up jumper and burying a tough 3-pointer. He was a swarming presence on the defensive end as well.
In the end, Durant finished his 30 minutes with 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting, adding 9 rebounds, 2 steals and a block on the side.
Game of runs
The Americans missed their first 10 3-pointers of the contest, a development which would typically spell doom. With just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Aussies led 41-26 and looked completely in control.
But, despite shooting 2-for-13 from distance compared to Australia’s 7-for-15, Team USA rode a 16-4 surge at the end of the second to trail only 45-42 at the halftime break. Just over three minutes into the third quarter, that run swelled to 28-4, and USA — somehow — had a 54-45 lead.
Australia hung around initially, but a Devin Booker 3-point play expanded the Americans’ lead to double-digits with two minutes to play in the third quarter, and they didn’t look back. Team USA went on to win the third 32-10, flipping their at one time 15-point deficit into a 74-55 lead. It stayed one-sided from there.
Crucial to that swing, in addition to Durant, were the offensive contributions of Booker (20 points) and Jrue Holiday (11 points, 8 assists), and Team USA quieting Australia’s biggest performers in Patty Mills (5-for-14 from the field) and Joe Ingles (9 points, seven of which came in the first quarter).
Zach LaVine comes on late
LaVine entered play averaging 11 points on 58 percent shooting in Tokyo, but was quiet on the stat sheet early on. All of his 9 points (4-for-6 shooting) came in the second half by way of three loud dunks and a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the corner. He also notched 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in his 17 minutes.
It was fitting that LaVine’s two brightest highlights of his night began on the defensive end. In the final minute of the third, he swiped a Matisse Thybulle pass and soared for an uncontested slam on the other end; then, early in the fourth, he corralled an errant Matthew Dellavedova attempt and powered home another dunk.
LaVine has provided persistent and effective ball pressure on opposing guards throughout the Olympics, embracing a grittier role than he’s accustomed to with the Bulls. That can only help him and the team down the line — and, as he showed against Australia, he hasn't lost his flair for the dramatic.
Next up: Team USA, which has really rounded into form since falling to France in the group phase opener, awaits the winner of France-Slovenia in the finals.