TEAM USA ADVANCES TO SEMIFINALS

As they have for much of the Summer Games, Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat Australia, 119-86, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Chris Paul scored seven points with three assists and five steals.

Through five games in the preliminary round Team USA proved capable of overcoming slow starts to mostly dominate the second half. Their encore performance in the quarterfinals was none too different.

After a spirited Australian team held tight for most of three quarters Wednesday, the United States pulled away in the final 10 minutes to advance to the semifinals with a 119-86 win at London’s North Greenwich Arena.

Team USA (6-0) plays rival Argentina for the second time this week Friday at 1 p.m. PDT.

The thrust from Team USA’s fourth-quarter explosion came behind forward Lebron James, who registered the first-ever U.S. triple-double in the Summer Games with 11 points, 12 assists, and 14 rebounds in 30 minutes. Kobe Bryant bounced back from a scoreless first half to score a team-high 20, including four consecutive 3-pointers when the United States seized control late.

Clippers point guard Chris Paul chipped in seven points, three assists, and a team-tournament-high five steals. He opened the fourth quarter with his only 3-pointer, setting off a 35-16 run to close a game in which Australia had closed to within five on a David Andersen layup four minutes into the second half.

Paul’s scored 31 points in the last three games, including 17 in Monday’s 29-point victory over Argentina, and has shown an aggressiveness that perhaps was absent early in the tournament. In the first quarter against Australia, he nailed his all-too-familiar pull-up jumper from the right elbow to Team USA a 10-8 lead and even created opportunities off of his misses, drawing the defense, and opening up the lane for a Tyson Chandler put-back dunk on the next possession. Two minutes later, Paul benefited from a botched layup by Aron Baynes on one end and received a near full-court pass from Kevin Durant for a quick layup on the other.

He’s also picking up where he left off as the NBA’s leader in steals. Through six games he leads all players with 16 thefts (2.7 per game). On Wednesday, he deflected passes, swiped the ball from dribblers, and even disrupted a baseline layup attempt by Patrick Mills, who led Australia with 26 points.

After the game, Team USA had already turned their focus to Friday’s matchup with Argentina, who advanced past Brazil, 82-77. Led by Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and Suns forward Luis Scola, the Argentines have two wins against Team USA in international play since 2004, including an 89-81 semifinal upset in Athens eight years ago.

Asked whether he perceived Argentina as a rival, Paul said, “It’s somewhat of a rivalry. I definitely think so. This will be our third time playing them in the last two or three weeks. We’ve got to get out to a good start. They are going to have their crowd behind them and we’ve got to come out and impose our will.”