US men’s basketball team gets tested, beats Australia
RIO DE JANEIRO — The blowouts are over. The Olympics are underway.
After nothing but pushovers this summer, the U.S. men’s basketball team faced someone who pushed back.
“This is the real world now and that’s good for us,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Finally tested, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving had the answers.
Anthony scored 31 points on the night he became the U.S. men’s Olympic career scoring leader, combining with Irving for all the Americans’ baskets in the fourth quarter of a 98-88 victory over Australia on Wednesday night.
Irving — born in Australia — added 19 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:35 left after Australia had closed within four.
A team that won its first two games by a combined 101 points could never get a comfortable lead — and for a while couldn’t get one at all. The Australians, with big bodies inside, quality point guards to counter the American pressure and a wealth of NBA championship experience, stood toe to toe with the team that had blown them out of the last two Olympics in the quarterfinals.
But Anthony, the first male to play in four Olympics, steadied the Americans in the first competitive game most of this new team had ever experienced.
“We kind of expected a game like this, a physical game, a grind-out game from playing against Australia over the past couple years,” Anthony said, “and going into tonight we knew it was going to come down to the end of the game where we were really going to have to buckle down and focus in and make plays down the stretch.”
Kevin Durant capped off the scoring with two free throws, making him the only other player than Irving or Anthony to score in the period.
The Americans, who had barely broken a sweat in Brazil, trailed early in the fourth quarter before Anthony hit a flurry of 3-pointers to put the Americans on top.
Patty Mills, the tournament scoring leader, had 30 points for Australia.
After five easy exhibitions preceding routs of China and Venezuela to open the tournament, the Americans trailed 72-70 with about 9 minutes left. Anthony scored to tie it, hit a 3-pointer to give the Americans the lead for good, and then hit a couple more 3s that pushed it to 83-76.
The team staying on a luxury cruise ship could never relax until scoring the final five points in the last 27 seconds on free throws, with Irving hitting the first three.
The Americans, so carefree in their opener that reserves DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler played rock, paper, scissors to determine who would shoot a free throw, realized they were in a fight in this one.
“It got real,” Paul George said. “It definitely got real.”
An enraged Krzyzewski screamed at an official after Andrew Bogut’s hard foul on Irving just in front of the U.S. bench in the third quarter, his face looking as red as the shirts the coaching staff wore.
Bogut finished with 15 points for the Australians, who have never won a medal but four of their players own NBA rings. They nearly became the first team to knock off the Americans in the Olympics since Krzyzewski took over in 2005.
“We have a pretty gritty group that’s pretty tough and we battled all night,” Bogut said.
Australia had opened the Olympics with impressive victories over France and Serbia, both ranked among the top six in the world. Then the Aussies gave the team ranked No. 1 all it could handle.
The Americans clinched a spot in the medal round, though that was never going to be in doubt.
This game, though, was.
It was the second straight game the Americans were tied after one quarter. They quickly blew away Venezuela after it was 18-all, but the only second-quarter surge in this one was made by Australians.
They used a 15-3 burst to make it 46-39, and Krzyzewski actually needed a timeout to calm his team that by then can usually make its postgame plans.
Anthony moved past LeBron James as the U.S. career leader in Olympic scoring and did it quickly, using a hot start to make up the 11-point advantage James had entering the game.
Irving once considered playing for Australia, where he was born while his father was playing there professionally. He exchanged a pregame hug with Matthew Dellavedova, his former backup in Cleveland, but things didn’t stay nice for long.
The Aussies hit hard and the Americans hit back, with George getting a technical foul for a shot at Dellavedova.
It was a welcome test for the Americans, who have been so dominant under Krzyzewski that it sometimes seems the U.S. players are the only ones who don’t make a gold medal sound assured.
They’ve said it won’t come easily.
Now they’ve finally had a game that wasn’t.
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