The United States men's basketball team beat Australia 97-78 in the semifinal round of the Olympics on Thursday morning. Here are five observations from what went down...
Olympic medal clinched
Right from the very start of their exhibition schedule, it was evident the U.S. men's basketball team did not have an easy road to earning a gold medal in these Olympics and the threat was there for them to not medal at all. That threat was realized in real time in the early hours of Thursday morning, as Team USA went down by 15 points in the second quarter of their semifinal matchup with Australia. Not only did the U.S. team come back, they ended up beating the Boomers by 19 points, a game that would appear to be a complete blowout if you only looked at the box score.
It was much closer than that, however, and it required Kevin Durant and Devin Booker to catch fire to secure the victory and push the United States into the finals where they will meet Rudy Gobert and France (Friday, 10:30 pm ET) as they play for a gold medal. Australia will play Luka Doncic and Slovenia in the bronze medal game after France narrowly beat Slovenia on Thursday morning.
Durant went off for 23 points and Booker had 20. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who had 11 points apiece, were the other Americans to reach double-figures.
Durant is a Team USA legend
Most U.S. men's team rosters of the past are rife with NBA legends, so many they could field entire lineups of all-time greats. This year's group has a bunch of guys who could be in the Hall of Fame someday, but only one true immortal and that is Durant. Thankfully, he has played like one when the U.S. has needed it most.
He got cooking in the second and third quarters with midrange jumpers, all while the U.S. defense began clamping down. Durant only shot 1-for-7 from three, but he was 10-for-19 from the field and added nine rebounds, two steals and a block. He passed Carmelo Anthony to become Team USA's all-time scoring leader earlier in the tournament and is now separating himself from the pack to demonstrate his greatness on the international stage with winning plays. Durant is establishing himself as one of the best Olympic players of all-time and that will be set in stone if they win gold.
Though the focus in the States will be on USA-France in the gold medal game, the bronze medal game is going to have plenty of intrigue. Not only will Doncic be there, but this Australian team is very good and a worthy competitor on the Olympic stage. Their 15-point lead in the first half was no accident, as their team was very much in this game.
Patty Mills, who just recently signed with the Nets, had 15 points, eight assists and three steals. Dante Exum, who is currently an NBA free agent, had 14 points and four rebounds off the bench. And Joe Ingles, longtime member of the Utah Jazz, hit a pair of threes despite topping out at nine points. They went 11-for-26 from long range as a team, good for 42.3%.
A glimpse at LaVine
One of the most underrated players on Team USA in the Olympics has been Zach LaVine, the Bulls All-Star long known for his dunking ability. He may not be the most heralded player on the U.S. team, but he has been consistently good off their bench throughout the tournament. He had nine points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes on Thursday, all while shooting 4-for-6 from the field.
Through five games, LaVine is shooting 59.4% from the field and 47.6% from three. That's some excellent efficiency and especially for a bench player who isn't taking a ton of shots. He's also playing off the ball quite a bit, which on Thursday led to a play that gave a snapshot of what his future could be like with new Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball. Holiday snatched a rebound off the rim and dribbled it up the floor before firing a laser of a pass for a LaVine alley-oop. LaVine and Ball are going to be very dangerous in the open court.
Too many turnovers
The United States was able to get away with it this time, but their 16 turnovers against Australia will need to be cleaned up in the gold medal game. Limiting turnovers had so far been a strength for Team USA -- they averaged the second-fewest of any team in the Olympics entering the semifinal round.
A lot of the turnovers came from the bench against Australia. Middleton and Draymond Green each had three, while LaVine and Jayson Tatum each had two. The U.S. almost as many turnovers as they did assists (19), which is generally not a good recipe for wins.