SAITAMA, Japan — The U.S. has owned gold for three straight Olympics, making the middle of the medals platform property of the Americans.
The Australians tried everything they could to shove them off.
“They hit us with a nice punch,” Kevin Durant said after their men’s Olympic semifinals matchup. “We knew that team was going to get us down early and see how we’d respond.”
The response was not what Australia had hoped.
Durant scored 23 points, Devin Booker had 20 and the U.S. blew past and eventually blew away the Aussies 97-78 on Thursday after falling into a 15-point hole.
With their gold-medal streak looking in jeopardy midway through the second quarter, the Americans overwhelmed the Australians with a 48-14 stretch that gave them a 74-55 lead after three periods.
The U.S. missed its first 10 3-point attempts and didn’t hit one until late in the second quarter. Then it felt as if the Americans hardly missed again, with Booker making three 3-pointers.
“Obviously, getting down 15 points you know you’ve got to bring it up a notch and that’s what we did,” Booker said.
Jrue Holiday had 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the U.S., which will play European champion Slovenia or France for a fourth straight gold medal Saturday. The French beat the Americans 83-76 in their Olympic opener.
That was part of a 2-3 start to the summer for the U.S., which included a loss to the Australians in an exhibition game in Las Vegas.
The Americans don’t look like that team anymore.
They look like the best team in the world, like those that used to win gold with ease.
It’s clear the Americans still have their grip on gold and it’s going to take more than a few bad minutes for anyone to take it away from them.
Patty Mills scored 15 points for Australia, which still needs a win for its first Olympic basketball medal.
The Australians have finished fourth four times at the Olympics, including in 2016, but believed this time they could bring home gold.
For 1 ½ quarters, it looked like they’d get a chance.
They dropped the Americans into their second double-digit deficit in two games, outplaying the world’s No. 1-ranked team and looking capable of forcing the U.S. to settle for anything other than Olympic gold for the first time since the Americans stumbled home with bronze in 2004.
But the U.S. recovered and romped after halftime, improving to 9-0 against Australia at the Olympics.
“In the locker room, it basically was, ‘How bad do you want it?’ And we came out with the same intent we had in the first half,” Australia’s Nic Kay said. “We didn’t do it at the level we needed to. It’s unfortunate.”