A dozen points in the fourth quarter for Kyrie Irving. A team-leading 31 points overall from Carmelo Anthony, 14 hit in the fourth quarter. All but two of Team USA’s 28 points in the final frame, up until a pair of “too late, Aussies,” free throws in the final seconds from Kevin Durant, were scored by the pair.
That was the story of the game, and for Team USA it wasn’t a warming one. They had to rely on the staid two-man game and mismatches to pull away for the 98-88 win, while previously unbeaten Australia played like an actual unit.
This isn’t to say Team USA played selfishly as it moved its 2016 Olympics record to 3-0, far from it. Each squad just had the look of two teams that had been playing alongside each other for as long as they have been. For Team USA, outside of a pair of stray teammates from Golden State and Toronto, it’s been a matter of weeks.
For the tough and resilient Aussies, it has been years.
Australia was not without its personal heroics, as San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills dropped 30 in the loss, hitting half of his looks along the way, but his team’s all-out movement on both ends was to be admired. This wasn’t even a case of gestalt-level five-man passing, either, as Milwaukee Buck Matthew Dellavedova managed 11 of his team’s 23 assists in the loss. Australia merely took its confidence to the logical end, and it wasn’t until Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles rimmed out a turnaround jumper with 31 seconds left that Team USA – up four and with possession of the ball – could rest.
It could rely on its free throw stroke to hit the expected litany of intentional foul freebies that end most close games, a stroke it wasn’t allowed to use much until late in the fourth quarter. Until that final march to the line, Team USA only made it to the charity stripe 13 times (making eight), though it finished with a 13-21 mark overall. Australia played physical defense, surprised with its ability to dive into sets quickly, and shooed Team USA away from the easy points.
Outside of the daggers from Melo, of course.
Anthony cashed in on three quick 3-pointers to start the game, and with just over a minute left in the first period he splashed another 3 – making him Team USA’s all-time leading scorer. Team USA was involved in a dogfight then and until that final minute, but it was good to see Anthony – so unfairly maligned during his first 2004 turn as an Olympian because of the martyrdom-embracing coach of the time in Larry Brown – notch such a special mark.
Carmelo continually confounded Australian power forward Aron Baynes, a center in NBA play with teams in San Antonio and Detroit, as Baynes struggled to keep tabs on Anthony (who started at power forward) behind the arc. By the time it was all over, Anthony hit 9-15 from long range, added eight rebounds and two steals, and didn’t turn the ball over.
A starting lineup switch for coach Mike Krzyzewski failed to pay off all that much, as he replaced the struggling Klay Thompson for Paul George in the opening five. Thompson signed off on the move, and more minutes for George (who dominated down the stretch of Team USA’s win over Venezuela), seemed ready to add his cadre of all-around gifts to Team USA’s lengthy lineup.
Instead, George managed just five points on 2-6 shooting, while Thompson missed seven of nine shots off the bench. Klay is shooting just 15 percent (3-20) in the Olympics thus far.
Despite its bruising play, Team Australia didn’t exactly spend an evening at the free throw line either. And with Team USA outscoring them 51-21 from outside the arc, it was hard for the Aussies to ever create an advantage that even approximated arm’s length. Either side knew what to expect heading in, and though it was somewhat alarming that Team USA’s still-developing chemistry couldn’t do much about those anticipations, both sides played as you’d presume.
Australia is a formidable foe, especially with Spain fading and France just barely keeping its head above water. As always, though, any Team USA shortcomings will stem from the group’s relative unfamiliarity to each other as teammates, and its overreliance on Coach K’s slimmed-down offensive playbook.
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