SAITAMA, Japan — When the United States men’s basketball team gets cranked up — defense, rebounding, ball movement, three-point shooting — there isn’t a team here at the Olympics that can defeat them.
The Americans are so good when they are good, they don’t even have to be good for all 40 minutes. At least not yet.
The US rode a 28-4 run across 8:20 of play that bookended halftime to take control of the semifinals en route to a 97-78 victory over a talented Australian team.
On Saturday morning here, but Friday night in the United States (10:30 p.m. ET) they will seek their 16th gold medal in 19 Olympic appearances, including four consecutive. Assured at least a silver, they continued their streak of medaling in every Olympics they have ever entered.
The US will face either a French team that defeated them at the start of these Games or a Luka Doncic-led Slovenia club. Those two teams play later Thursday here in Japan.
Looking lost on defense and off-kilter on offense, the Americans fell into a 15-point, second quarter hole to Australia. But one Gregg Popovich timeout changed the play of the Americans and the direction of the game.
“Our defense was pretty poor,” Popovich said. “It kind of carried over to the offensive end. Each of us were going to save the day so the ball kind of stopped. We pointed it out and they reacted. … I credit them with understanding the game as they do and for accepting the truth. These guys want the truth. And they reacted to it.”
Kevin Durant led the Americans with 23 points and was able to rest for much of the second half as the game got out of control. Devin Booker added 20 and Jrue Holiday 11.
Mainly though, the U.S. played much better defense, prohibiting the Australians from taking wide-open threes or cutting unencumbered to the net. Patty Mills had 15 and Danta Exum had 14 for the Aussies, who many thought were the American’s stiffest competition here.
“[Defense] fueled our offensive,” Popovich said. “We got it going pretty good.”
After that big second-half deficit, the U.S. closed the game by outsourcing Australia by 37 points.
The slow starts, and then white hot runs, have been a U.S. trademark during these games. They found themselves having to make comebacks out of early deficits in four of their five games thus far.
Against the Czech Republic they hit 21 of 25 shots at one point. They put together an 18-4 run to bust open the quarterfinals against Spain. Even in their loss to France, they used strong stretches of play to build four separate leads of eight or more points, only to let all of them slip away.
And now this, which turned a tense game early and a halftime deficit into a relatively easy victory.
Just one more game for gold for the Americans. They may even need to play well the entire game. Or not.
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