Durant-led USA to face France in Olympic basketball finalFriday, August 06, 2021
SAITAMA, Japan (AFP) — Kevin Durant scored 23 points and Devin Booker added 20 to power three-time defending champions United States past Australia 97-78 yesterday and into an Olympic men's basketball final against France.
The Americans were 18-24 behind after the first quarte, and 42-45 adrift at halfway, but stormed back during a dominant third term to stay on track for a fourth consecutive gold medal.
They will face two-time runners-up France, who upset them in the group phase, in Saturday's showdown after the world number seven battled past Olympic debutants Slovenia 90-89 in a thriller.
Nando De Colo poured in a game-best 25 points and Boston Celtics' Evan Fournier added 23 to give their team a third crack at upsetting the US after failing to do so in their two previous Olympic finals in 1948 and 2000.
Beating Australia was revenge for the USA who had crashed to Patty Mills' Boomers in their past two meetings, including a demoralising 91-83 defeat in Las Vegas last month.
But, when it comes to the Olympics the US are dominant and stretched their lead over their long-time foes at the Games to 9-0.
“We knew Australia would come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early – see how we respond,” said the Brooklyn Nets' Durant.
Australia, the world's third-ranked team, have never finished on the Olympic podium and they now face another bronze medal match, having contested four previously and lost the lot.
“A medal's still what we came here to do, even though it's not going to be gold or silver,” said their disappointed Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle.
The Americans opened their Olympic campaign with a shock defeat to France but have slowly found their groove, with Durant pacing their offence.
He was averaging 18 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists a game heading into the semi-final and once more proved authoritative.
The Boomers' Joe Ingles sunk seven points, including two 3-pointers, in the first quarter to send his team into the second period with a six-point cushion.
Outside-the-arc shooting had been the US team's primary weapon in Japan, but they struggled early against the Australians.
The Boomers opened a 15-point lead in the second term, but the reigning champions blew the game open in the third quarter, dominating it 32-10.
France lost in the last two Olympic quarter-finals to send four-time National Basketbal Association championship-winning Tony Parker into retirement without a medal, but they now have a golden chance for a maiden title.
“We just had to fight to the last second, that's who we are as a team,” said their Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert. “The US are the best team in the tournament, we just need to get ready and be up for the challenge.”
Slovenia came out fast and were ahead for almost the entire first quarter, with Luka Doncic and Mike Tobey both netting 10 points each to take a two-point advantage into the second term.
They led by the same margin at half-time, but a stronger third quarter saw France go into the final stretch with a 71-65 lead and they held on in a tense finale.