Devin Booker dribbles the ball in the men's semi-final basketball match during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 5, 2021 in Satima, Japan.
Kevin Durant was denied a chance to go after a third NBA title this summer. He wasn’t about to miss a shot at a third straight Olympic gold medal.
A determined Durant scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half as the top-ranked U.S. men’s basketball team overcame a slow start and a 15-point deficit to top third-ranked Australia 97-78 in Thursday’s Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 semifinal at Saitama Super Arena.
The Americans will play for a fourth consecutive gold medal Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday, 11:30 a.m. in Japan) against the winner of the Slovenia-France game.
In addition to Durant’s team-leading offensive output and nine rebounds, Devin Booker added 20 points and Jrue Holiday 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the U.S., while Khris Middleton added 11 points.
“We know these teams are going to hit us with their best punches at the start,” Durant said of getting down big in the first half again. “I think they want to get us down early and hope that we panic, and we didn’t last game or this game. Going into that halftime, we made plays, we got stops, coach (Gregg Popovich) put in a good defensive scheme at the end of the second quarter and we was able to get some momentum and we came out in the third quarter with with amazing energy and fight and we was able to come in and get a good lead.”
Patty Mills had 15 points and eight assists for Australia, which had beaten the U.S. in a pre-Olympic exhibition game in Las Vegas and at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the last two times the teams met. Australia pulled its key players with about four minutes left, ostensibly to conserve energy in order to win a bronze. Australia has never won a medal in its previous 14 Olympic appearances, losing four times in the bronze-medal game.
The emphasis on defense was clear early. Durant had a block and challenged two more shots at the rim in the opening four minutes. Also, both teams seemed tight from a shooting perspective before settling in. Australia led by as much as eight points at 20-12 and was up 24-18 after Chris Goulding hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
For the second straight game, the U.S. allowed its opponent to take a double-digit lead and looked like it could get run out of the arena. Down 41-26 after a Dante Exum lob and Jock Landale dunk with 5:23 left in the half, the U.S. — just like in the quarterfinals vs. Spain — rallied with a 16-4 run to pull within 45-42 at the break.
The Americans were just 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) from 3-point range, while the Aussies connected on 7 of 15 (46.7 percent). Australia also had a sizable advantage from the free-throw line early in the second quarter, but the U.S. trimmed that to 10-8 by halftime.
Durant kept the fire stoked to begin the third quarter. After Holiday scored two baskets to open the second half, Durant scored the next eight points for a 12-0 burst to put the U.S. up 54-45 just 1:13 into the third. His theatrics took the pressure off his teammates, in particular Booker, as the U.S. started hitting the open shots it was missing in the first half. A Booker 3-pointer at the buzzer allowed the Americans to go up 75-55 entering the fourth quarter.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.