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Team USA survives scare from Australia thanks to Carmelo Anthony

Basketball - Olympics: Day 5

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Carmelo Anthony #15 of United States drives the ball against David Andersen #13 of Australia during a Preliminary Round Basketball game between Australia and the United States on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Carmelo Anthony had a front-row seat – and nothing more – to Team USA’s last Olympic defeat.

After a DNP-CD during the Americans’ infamous loss to Argentina in 2004, Anthony has grown into the face of USA Basketball.

It paid off today.

Anthony scored 31 points to lead Team USA to a 98-88 win over Australia, a game much more closely contested than the final score indicates. The Americans trailed in the fourth quarter and by eight earlier in the game before pulling away for their 20th straight Olympic win.

This was the first time Team USA trailed at halftime (by five) during the streak. Even with the misleadingly narrow final margin, it was the fifth-closest victory during the streak. The narrowest wins:

  • Lithuania by five in 2012
  • Spain by seven in 2012
  • Lithuania by eight in 2004
  • Spain by nine in 2008
  • Australia by 10 in 2016

Team USA (3-0) is now the lone undefeated team in Group A and can feel better about its chances of a third straight gold medal. Instead of miserable questions about losing, the key queries now:

Did Australia sandbag? Is Australia, which beat medal-favorite France by 21, the second-best team in Rio?

Regardless of the answers, Team USA is in good shape. At this point, it’s about evaluating just how good of shape. You have to feel confident when your close calls end in double-digit wins.

The Americans can thank Anthony for their comfortable standing.

Anthony repeatedly exploited a matchup advantage by playing power forward against two-big Australia, taking his larger defender – usually Aron Baynes – beyond the arc. Not only did Anthony make 9-of-15 3-pointers, he held his own down low, grabbing eight rebounds.

“He’s our rock,” said Kyrie Irving, who scored 19 points and came up big as Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter. “So, he’s going to hold us down, and I expect him to do that. We have a lot of faith in him.”

Beyond Anthony and Irving late, not much went well for the Americans.

After playing no NBA players in wins over China and Venezuela, Team USA faced a team starting five NBA players (Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Baynes and Andrew Bogut).

The difference showed.

Mills led Australia with 30 points. Bogut (15 points on 7-of-9 shooting with three blocks) had burst of awesomeness. Dellavedova (11 points and 11 assists) dictated an effective attack. Australian captain David Anderson (13 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting) played out of his mind.

Maybe Australia was unsustainably hot, but the Americans’ talent gap should have given them more margin for error. Team USA’s uneven offense didn’t.

The U.S. isolated too much, the Warriors wings – Kevin Durant (4-for-16) and Klay Thompson (2-for-9) – notable offenders.

But there’s a reason the Americans’ flaws won’t get overly dissected before their next game – Friday against Serbia.

Carmelo Anthony, in the latest act of a distinguished international career, rescued them from disaster.