The threat to the U.S. basketball reign is real and it’s Australian.
The United States pulled out a 98-88 victory but it was far from easy. It took a heroic fourth-quarter effort from Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving to put the U.S. over the top.
Matched up against the All-Star squad that is the United States, the Aussies came out ready for a battle. Playing a physical brand of basketball, the Boomers went bucket-for-bucket with the U.S. in the first quarter.
They were forced to prove their mettle early, withstanding a scoring barrage from Carmelo Anthony who dropped 14 first quarter points, including the first nine of the game for the Americans. With his 14th point, Anthony surpassed his buddy LeBron James to become the all-time leading scorer in U.S. Olympic basketball history.
In the second quarter, the Aussies were even better. Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut combined for 28 first half points, on 11-for-13 shooting. Matthew Dellavedova scored only three first half points, but dished out nine assists before the main break.
The U.S. struggled to get their shots to fall in the first half. Kevin Durant shot just 2-10 after two quarters, with the U.S. entering the locker room shooting just 37 percent from the field. Australia, on the other hand, filled it up at a 68 percent clip.
As the two teams entered halftime, Australia led the United States 54-49. It was the first time the United States trailed at the end of a quarter since the 2004 Olympics.
Out of the gates at halftime, the U.S. went on a quick 9-0 run, once again looking like the team to beat in Rio. But, again, the Aussies persevered with a Mills finger-roll putting an end to the Australian drought.
Australia matched each United States run and trailed by just three heading into the fourth.
Anthony found his range again early in the fourth quarter, though. Back-to-back threes from ‘Melo gave the U.S. a 78-74 advantage and prompted a quick timeout from Australian head coach Andrej Lemanis.
Mills and Dellavedova each submitted valiant efforts, but they couldn’t match the output of Irving and Melo, who combined for 26 of the United States 28 fourth quarter points.
U.S. Olympic scoring title in hand, Anthony was a force on offense all night long. He had a team-high 31 points, eight rebounds, an assist and two steals.
Irving, Anthony’s coconspirator down the stretch, hit big shots in the final frame and tallied 19 points, two rebounds, five assists and a steal in the win.
Durant found a rhythm in the fourth, rebounding from an uncharacteristically poor first half, to finish with 14 points, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal and one assist.
The U.S. bigs found themselves in foul trouble all night long with both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins collecting four fouls, but Draymond Green stepped in and hit down a few big baskets to help end Aussie runs.
In what was one of the most competitive games since the 2008 Gold Medal Game against Spain, Australia made the United States work for every point. Bogut lived up to the famed Boomer toughness, doling out hard fouls and never allowing the United States to feel truly comfortable on the court.
With the win, the U.S. moves to 3-0 in Rio and will look to keep rolling against Serbia on Friday. The Aussies will tip-off against the host nation in hopes of securing the second seed in Group A.