Team USA Pushes Past Australia, Spain Shuts Down France
On Wednesday, both Team USA and the Spanish National Team needed strong defensive fourth quarters to move onto the Olympic semi-finals.
The Americans staved off a pesky Australian squad that got within three points in the third quarter before using a major fourth quarter burst to run away with a 119-86 victory. Spain trailed for a large portion of its matchup against its border-sharing rival France, but held the French to six fourth quarter points en route to a 66-59 win. In both games, Thunder players Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka played a vital role in the victory.
Both teams will square off with foes they saw in the group stages on Friday, with Team USA taking on Argentina and Spain looking for revenge against Russia. Team USA beat Argentina 126-97 on Monday after leading by only one at halftime, while Spain fell to Russia 77-74 last Saturday. Both teams are just one win away from having the opportunity to play in Sunday's Gold Medal game.
Team USA vs. Australia
As many of these Team USA contests have, the Americans kicked off the scoring in this one with a Kevin Durant three pointer.
Durant came into the game shooting 61 percent from behind the arc during Olympic play, and went 4-for-9 from deep en route to 14 points and five rebounds on Wednesday in Team USA’s 119-86 victory over Australia. It was the dominating triple-double of LeBron James and the 20 second-half points by Kobe Bryant that helped the Americans break away from a physical Australian club in the third and fourth quarters.
After opening the second half by giving up an 11-0 run to Australia, Durant knocked down a three pointer and USA didn’t look back. The Americans re-built its lead to 14 points to end the third quarter, then outscored Australia 35-16 in the final period to erase all doubt. It stemmed, as NBC commentator and Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said, from defensive intensity.
“It was a team spurt, it wasn’t just one guy,” Rivers said. “It’s coming off their defense. When they get multiple stops, they get multiple scores.
Once again Durant and the rest of Team USA’s outside shooting was important, as all six of Bryant’s triples occurred in that critical stretch run of the second half. On the day the Americans were 19-for-46, not quite it’s record-bashing 29 three-pointer performance against Nigeria, but still solid. The best of those deep balls came from the drive-and-dish variety, with Australia sunk into a zone for a good portion of the game.
“You look at Team USA, I still think they’re taking the right type of threes for the most part,” Rivers said. “And they’re making them.”
Westbrook and Harden also chipped in on the offensive end, with Westbrook and Durant acting as co-scoring leaders after one quarter with six apiece. Harden knocked down a three pointer and slammed home two big dunks en route to seven points on the day. The Thunder player who received the most praise from NBC color commentator and Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins however, was Durant.
“He has a quick release, his shot is on line every time,” Collins said. “He might be short or long, but it’s always on line… Durant, that shot is beautiful. It’s just a great rotation and follow through.”
While Westbrook didn’t score again after that first quarter, he and his teammates’ perimeter defense helped spur the late surge for the Americans. Team USA forced Australia into 18 turnovers, and it was the on-ball pressure from Westbrook and others starting all the way in the backcourt that frustrated the Australians, and sprung scoring opportunities for the Americans.
“The pressure of Westbrook and Chris Paul really changes games,” Collins said.
Spain vs. France
It was an uphill climb for the Spanish side, but finally, Serge Ibaka and his teammates were able to take the lead and seal a 66-59 victory over France.
The Spanish side only shot 37.5 percent from the field and 20 percent from the three point line, but fortunately its defense held France to only 33.8 percent shooting on the day. In the fourth quarter, Spain trailed 55-52 when Ibaka played a key role on three straight possessions to help guide his team to a game-ending 14-4 run.
After Ibaka snared a defensive rebound that led to a bucket, the Thunder forward stayed active on the offensive glass to tip in a missed shot. On the very next possession, Ibaka tracked down a loose ball before delivering a perfect outlet pass to a teammate for a dunk. The sequence gave Spain its first lead of the final quarter, resulting in the final lead-change of the game.
On the day, Ibaka finished with four points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal in 13 minutes of action.