Despite Struggles, USA Advances To Gold Medal Game With Win Versus Australia

by Casey Holdahl
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The USA Men’s National Team hasn’t looked like the juggernaut of international basketball the world has expected to see during their run at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But despite their relative struggles, they’re still back where they've been in a six of the last seven Olympics: playing for a gold medal.

After trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, the United States once again rallied to come away with a 97-78 win versus Australia in the Olympic tournament semifinals Thursday at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo.

“We respect our opponents,” said Damian Lillard. “We respect every team here and a lot of these guys have played together for years and years and years. They come play FIBA and Olympics and all these things all the time together. And for us, we just putting the team together of a bunch of talented individuals trying to become a team in a short amount of time. And I think now we’re starting to gel and become more of a team.”

With the win, the United States is 4-1 at the 2020 Summer Olympics. They will now move on to face the winner of France vs. Slovenia in the gold medal game.

Even though the United States got off to similar starts in wins versus Czech Republic in the final game of group play and in their quarterfinal matchup versus Spain, there was more cause for concern in the semifinals versus Australia. After all, the Americans had already lost to the Aussies in a friendly in Las Vegas less than a month ago, so when they started the game by committing 10 fouls, turning the ball over eight times and missing their first 11 three-pointers, it seemed as if the United States might have dug themselves one to many holes to overcome.

But with Kevin Durant carrying the load, the United States, after being down 41-26 with just over five minutes to play in the first half, closed out the quarter on a 16-4 run to cut the Australian’s advantage to 45-42 at the intermission.

That run would continue in the third quarter with the USA not only finding their range from three, but also holding the Australians to just two points in the first four minutes and 20 seconds of the second half. By time the Aussies score their second field goal of the second half, the United States had rattled off a 28-4 run between the second and third quarters to take a 54-45 lead.

That advantage would sell to as many as 23 with the likes of Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday joining Durant as the United State’s best options on the offensive end. Australia would eventually pull their starters with about two minutes to play, all but ensuring that the United States would advance for a chance to win their fourth-straight gold medal.

“We here representing a lot of people and so are these other teams and they have a lot of pride about that,” said Lillard. “That’s what they play with, a lot of pride and a lot of passion, so you’re going to get team’s best. We have a history of winning, so you’ve got to know that you’re going to come up against really competitive, fiery teams. It is what it is. We came here with one goal and that’s to win a gold medal and now we’re in position to do it.”

Lillard went 2-of-4 from the field for five points to go with three rebounds an d an assist in 17 minutes. It was the fewest number of attempts the 6-3 guard had taken through five games in Tokyo.

“I’m just embracing being a part of the team,” said Lillard. “We all go our separate ways for our NBA teams and we have major roles. And here, sometimes you’re going to be the guy and sometimes it’s going to be another guy. But that’s the fun part of being a part of this.”

Durant, who is in the running for tournament MVP, finished with 23 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes. Booker went 7-of-10 for 20 points while Holiday contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 28 minutes.

Patty Mills led Australia with 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes. Dante Exum finished with 14 and Jock Landale had 11 points and six rebounds.

The United States will now wait to find out if they’ll meet the team they lost to in their opening game at the Olympics, France, or face Luka Doncic and Slovenia in the gold medal game, which will be held on Friday at 7:30 p.m. on the west coast.

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