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Team USA advances to gold-medal game with big turnaround vs. Australia

Kevin Durant in Team USA-Australia men's basketball at Tokyo Olympics

USA’s Kevin Wayne Durant (R) dribbles the ball past Australia’s Jock Landale (L) in the men’s semi-final basketball match between Australia and USA during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on August 5, 2021. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Australia – which beat Team USA in exhibitions in 2019 and this year – surged to a 15-point second-quarter lead over the U.S. The Australians hooted and hollered. The Americans hovered around their bench with long faces.

But Team USA didn’t need much of an opening.

“Once we went up –,” Kevin Durant said before correcting himself. “Once we went down three going into halftime…

"…I felt like we had the game in hand.”

Not even needing a lead to regain total confidence, the Americans rallied for a 97-78 win over Australia in the Tokyo Olympic men’s basketball semifinals Thursday.

In the gold-medal game (10:30 Eastern Friday), the United States will play the winner of Slovenia-France. Slovenia is 17-0 with Luka Doncic. France beat Team USA in group play in Tokyo.

The U.S. men’s basketball team has now clinched a medal at all 19 of the Olympics it has participated in. (The United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.) But only a 16th gold medal will satisfy this talent-rich country.

For a while Thursday, it seemed Team USA would be playing for bronze.

But Durant’s deadly mid-range game carried the U.S. through some rough moments. He finished with 23 points and nine rebounds in another otherworldly individual performance.

Even after playing in the NBA Finals, Devin Booker (20 points) and Jrue Holiday (11 points, eight assists and eight rebounds) summoned fantastic energy.

Durant, Booker and Holiday also led a defense that – after numerous breakdowns, especially in transition – eventually locked into Australia’s tendencies.

The United States went on 20-0 and 15-2 runs to break the game open.

Still seeking its first medal in Olympic men’s basketball, Australia will face the Slovenia-France loser in the bronze-medal game (7 a.m. Saturday). Australia has finished fourth in 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2016. Another near-miss at a medal would be devastating – especially after appearing poised to take gold or silver.

Team USA isn’t quite inevitable anymore. But the Americans still carry themselves as the eventual winner of every game they play, no matter the deficit.

Which works as long as they keep backing it up like this.