US men’s hoops team stands 2 games from gold
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) – Now that Kobe Bryant, strangely missing, has finally joined the fun, the U.S. appears complete.
Oh, there are some major defensive flaws, but that hardly matters to this suped-up, American-manufactured scoring machine that goes from zero to 100 points in seconds.
Overpowering and dominant in a way not seen since the 1992 Dream Team, the Americans are now two wins from a second straight Olympic gold medal.
“We’re ready,” Carmelo Anthony said.
Pushed by teammate Kevin Durant to “turn it on,” Bryant scored 20 points – all in the second half – and the U.S. team stomped its way into the semifinals with a 119-86 win on Wednesday night over Australia, which scrapped as hard as it could until the world’s best team put the game away.
Bryant made six 3-pointers, LeBron James racked up a triple-double with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists and the U.S. moved a step closer to gold on the 20th anniversary of the ’92 team’s historic rampage in Barcelona. With NBA Commissioner David Stern and two-time Olympian Dwyane Wade watching from the stands, the Americans set up a rematch in the semifinals with Argentina – a team they buried by 29 in the preliminary round.
Unless the Argentines, with their roster of thirty-somethings, can find a way to slow down the U.S., another lopsided loss seems inevitable.
“We have maybe a five-percent chance of winning,” forward Manu Ginobili said after Argentina beat Brazil 82-77 to set up a third straight meeting with the U.S. in the semifinals. “But we are going to fight for that.”
Bryant had been more spectator than spectacular since coming to London. He entered the quarterfinals averaging just 9.4 points per game, touching off questions about whether he was hurt, disinterested or perhaps unable to produce the same way Anthony, Durant and James have been.
Nobody’s wondering any longer.
At halftime, Anthony and Durant both pushed the man nicknamed the Black Mamba to do more, and Bryant struck back with a barrage of 3-pointers that sent the U.S. bench into a towel-waving frenzy.
“He was a little sleepy out there,” Anthony said. “I guess I woke up the Mamba and he responded.”
Deron Williams added 18 points, Anthony 17 and Durant 14 for the Americans, who pounded Argentina 126-97 on Monday night in their preliminary-round finale. Tempers flared in that one when Argentina guard Facunda Campazzo intentionally punched Anthony in the groin. Campazzo said he retaliated for being punched earlier by U.S. guard Chris Paul, who never denied that he took a swipe at Campazzo.
“Which time,” Paul said. “We tangled 1,000 times.”
Anthony doesn’t expect the Argentines to play nice again.
“You just have to go out there and take them punches – not literally,” he said. “We’re excited about it. Just now in the huddle we said we gotta prepare for them.”
Down by 14 at halftime, Australia was determined to make it a game and scored the first 11 points of the second half, cutting the Americans’ lead to three. The U.S. was only ahead by six before Bryant, who had struggled with his shot and foul trouble in previous games, finally broke out.
He made a 3-pointer, batted away a pass and chased it down along the left sideline. Feeling a rhythm that had been missing, Bryant pulled up and dropped another 3 that made it 70-58.
Two shots in 18 seconds was all it took.
Bryant was back.
“Somebody made him mad. I could see it in his eyes,” Durant said. “I wanted him to kind of turn it on and that’s what he did. That was the first time we’ve seen it here. He got so upset and when he does that he’s in another world.
“It was just a matter of time.”
Bryant laughed when told there were doubters back home.
The Aussies knew he was dead serious.
“Kobe got a little bit sniff,” Patty Mills said. “And for great teams, that’s all they need and they stretch it out.”
Mills scored 26 points and Joe Ingles had 19 for Australia, which had the misfortune of running into the U.S. in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics.
By the time Bryant got done, even the Australian fans were cheering for him as he walked to the locker room, bumping fists with a Aussies’ kangeroo mascot wearing boxing gloves.
This was another knockout, albeit one in the late rounds, for the Americans.
All that’s between the U.S. and a gold medal now is Argentina, a dangerous team with swagger and experience, and a matchup with the Russia-Spain semifinal winner.
The Americans have tangled with the Spaniards before, beating them in the gold-medal game four years ago. A matchup with Russia would rekindle Cold Ward memories and the 1972 final in Munich, when the U.S. had its 63-game winning streak stopped amid a controversial ending still debated today.
The U.S. has shown moments of vulnerability in this tourney. Not many, but a few.
It came in as the team to beat, and through six games, that hasn’t changed.
“We don’t have no weaknesses,” Anthony said. “None.”