This is an unorthodox United States basketball team to say the least.
There are times where you want to throttle each and every player for 30 minutes, yet there’s the other ten minutes where you’re speechless and don’t want to blink at the risk of missing something spectacular.
The Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde appearance was on full display today against Australia in the Quarterfinals. The Aussies used a tough approach, fouling every driver and keeping the paint locked up, and it managed to keep them in the game for the first three quarters. The United States carried a 14-point lead into halftime, but saw it quickly cut to three points following an 11-0 run by their opponents.
The third quarter was hard fought throughout with the Americans eventually getting their act together on offense, but yielding 28 points on defense. This team had been in some battles already, but you expected more out of them considering they’re officially in the knockout rounds. Holding a 14-point leading going into the fourth simply wasn’t going to cut it.
Then Kobe Bryant showed up. After posting a goose egg in the first half and struggling with his shot once again, Bryant got his act together and showed the world why he was the only player worth getting an autograph from one Tunisian player. Hitting six three-pointers in the second half, and sparking a huge fourth quarter run, Bryant had all 20 of his points in the second half to lead the Americans to a convincing 119-86 victory.
The Australians looked absolutely stunned once the Americans got rolling. With Bryant hitting three-pointer after three-pointer and the defense constantly forcing turnovers, the United States rolled up a 35-16 fourth quarter advantage to come away with yet another blowout win.
LeBron James was brilliant throughout. By recording 11 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, he became the first American to record a triple-double, while also becoming the first player in 25 years to record a triple-double in 30 minutes and with zero turnovers. James had the Magic Johnson swagger going all night, snatching rebounds and then leading the break for an easy score, especially Bryant when he started converting open three’s off James’ passes.
Deron Williams chipped in 18 points off the bench, while Kevin Durant dropped in 14. Kevin Love was a monster on the glass grabbing 11 rebounds, including eight on the offensive boards alone.
Australia was led by San Antonio Spurs point guard Patrick Mills, who finished with 26 points. David Andersen contributed 11 points, while Joe Ingles contributed 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The team utilized physicality on defense and quality shooting on offense to stick around with the Americans for three quarters, but simply couldn’t handle the pressure nor the foul trouble when it came down to it.
The Americans made this win too difficult for themselves due to their reliance on the three-point line. This time around, they took 46 shots from beyond the arc, converting 19. The 41 percent they shot overall from deep was greatly aided by Kobe, who absolutely went berserk during the fourth quarter stretch that put Australia away. Australia shot a solid 9-of-22 from deep.
Still, you sort of want to expect more out of a team with so many facilitators and athletes. With all the talent on this team, you want to see them creating easy chances near the basket in half-court situations, rather than passing the ball along the perimeter and then using a bailout three-pointer to score points. Fortunately, the team is chock full of shooters who can come alive on any night, with Kobe being the deadliest shooter this around.
When it comes down to it, however, the team runs you ragged after only 30 minutes of playing. The athleticism of this team is like none many of these players have ever seen before. When you have the team either scoring shot-after-shot from deep or driving it inside and forcing your team to foul, it can make any man weary, which explains why the Australians could only muster 15 points after three consecutive quarters of at least 21.
Plus, once the Americans turn it on on the defensive end, it’s all but over. They’re too quick, have great anticipation in the passing lane and are too strong when putting pressure on the perimeter. The three-point line essentially becomes a barricade and most of the time, the Americans are forcing turnovers before their opponent reaches that point.
Eventually, all of those insane three-pointers that were falling for 30 minutes don’t keep falling. With constant pressure and a hand in your face all night, the opponent is eventually going to start missing shots. The Americans are using defense to turn into offense to beat their opponent and it’s worked well. Only against an excellent passing time like Lithuania have the United States struggled to put a team away.
The Americans now get to play Argentina in the Semifinals. The United States defeated Argentina 126-97 on Monday, but not before some chippy play emerged. With this being the last run for Gold for an aging Argentinian team, we’re sure to be in for a hard-fought battle between two squads that are going to be putting it all on the floor for a chance at Olympic glory.