Bryant Emerges from Shooting Slump and James Has Historic Triple Double as Team USA Beats AustraliaTeam USA overcame yet another somewhat sluggish start to defeat Australia 119-86 in the quarterfinal round; this is the elimination stage of the Olympics and Team USA will face Argentina on Friday for the opportunity to play Russia or Spain in the gold medal game on Sunday. Kobe Bryant bounced back from a scoreless first half to score 20 points in the second half--and 12 of those points came in an outburst of four three pointers in 67 seconds during the fourth quarter, sealing the win by pushing Team USA's lead from 93-78 to 105-80 at the 4:43 mark. Bryant achieved his team-high point total on 6-14 field goal shooting after shooting just 14-36 from the field in Group A play. He also had three assists, tying for second best on Team USA, and he was an important presence defensively.
After the game, Coach Mike Krzyzewski effusively praised Bryant: "Not many people have achieved the excellence that he has, there are only a few. They take responsibility; they don't make excuses...he is one of the top-10 players of all-time, maybe one of the top-5 players of all time. He just keeps working. You would be amazed at the preparation he puts in for a contest and you just have to stick with him because he has produced five NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal for us and tonight he really broke out of his scoring slump. I like the fact that they (Australia) have great camaraderie but we do too. The way his teammates really went up for him and one of the great plays was when LeBron hit him in the corner with a rhythm pass and helping him get off. When he stole the ball a couple times, instead of going for layups the bench was saying 'shoot it again!' They have seen him do that. So I love that he has that support from his teammates."
While Bryant elevated his personal level of play, LeBron James demonstrated once again why he must be considered the best player in the world. James notched the first triple double in U.S. Olympic basketball history (assists have only been officially tracked in the Olympics since 1976, so we do not know if Oscar Robertson, Jerry West or someone else had a triple double before that year): James tallied 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists, tying the U.S. Olympic single game record for assists also held by Phil Ford, Leon Wood and Michael Jordan. James is Team USA's best player, followed closely by Kevin Durant (who finished with 14 points and five rebounds). Bryant is number three--both on this team and in the NBA overall--but his propensity to rise to the occasion in clutch situations and his ability to impact a game at both ends of the court make him a crucial member of Team USA's roster even if his statistical imprint has at times been negligible. Deron Williams led Team USA with 13 first half points and he finished with 18 points, second only to Bryant. Carmelo Anthony (17 points) and Kevin Love (10 points, 11 rebounds) were the other double figure scorers for Team USA.
Patty Mills scored a game-high 26 points for Australia. He is the prototypical FIBA guard that gives Team USA fits: he is tough-minded, he can hit the three (he shot 4-9 from long distance versus Team USA) and he can drive to the hoop in the screen/roll game. Joe Ingles added 19 points and a team-high eight rebounds; it is worth noting that--even though Team USA's starting center Tyson Chandler had only two rebounds in just nine minutes--Team USA outrebounded Australia 52-42.
Australia took an early 8-5 lead after Mills drained his first two three pointers but Team USA eventually settled in defensively to go up 28-21 by the end of the first quarter. Team USA's defensive execution was also spotty at times in the second quarter but Deron Williams erupted for 11 points to help Team USA push the margin to 56-42 by halftime. Australia opened the third quarter with an 11-0 run and Team USA once again faced a competitive game in the second half, just like the previous contests versus Argentina and Lithuania. Bryant assisted on a three pointer by Durant and he tossed a lob to Chandler for an emphatic two handed dunk to give Team USA some breathing room and he later scored eight points in two minutes during a 9-2 run that gave Team USA a 70-58 lead. Australia hung tough the rest of the quarter and still were within striking distance (84-70) entering the fourth quarter.
The margin stayed around the 15 point range until Bryant's barrage of three pointers ended all resistance. Not long after that, Bryant and James headed to the bench, their work over for the night.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:05 AM