Heading into the Olympics, the United States men’s basketball team was the overwhelming favorite to win the gold medal. After all, they’d won 68 straight games, and even with stars like Steph Curry skipping out on Rio, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and most other players on the roster were still better than any player on any other team. Team USA rolled through China and Venezuela easily, but they ran into their first spot of trouble against Australia today.
The United States ended up wining by 10 tonight, but the final score belies how close the game was right until the very end. The Boomers held a 54-49 lead at halftime, and it was the first time that Team USA has trailed at halftime since 2004. Australia has been feisty all tournament, easily blowing out both France and Serbia. Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut have each thrived in larger roles than they usually have with their NBA teams, and Matthew Dellavedova has learned some new skills, like how to throw a pass to his teammates without the ball escaping 20 rows into the stands.
In a vacuum, those three players are nothing that the USA should have any trouble dealing with, but Australia has been playing some very cohesive basketball. Aron Baynes and Cameron Bairstow are, at best, decent players, but rolling out three NBA-level big men is a luxury few other teams have. Joe Ingles is a good glue guy, and despite looking like a Mad Max extra, David Andersen can shoot a bit. As Coack K said, they’ve played as well as anyone besides Team USA thus far.
They also match up with the United States better than almost any other team does. The U.S. roster is loaded with wings and tweeners, but they only have two true point guards, and neither one of them are particularly defensively adept. Patty Mills is perfect type of point guard to come at Team USA with, as he’s quick enough to get into the teeth of the defense and smart enough to find the open man if the U.S. gets discombobulated. Bogut also got the better of Boogie Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, negating an area the United States is usually strong in.
Even with Australia getting 30 from Mills, a double-double from Dellavedova, and Bogut’s strong game, the United States pulled away in the second half. They finally decided to play defense in the third, holding the Aussies to 13 points, then Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony shot Australia out of it for good in the fourth.
Despite the scare, there’s no reason to worry. France has a quick scoring guard of their own, but they haven’t played cohesively yet in this tournament. Spain can go five deep with NBA players, but Ricky Rubio has scored all of three points at the Olympics and they also haven’t played well yet. A medal isn’t certain or anything, but there’s nothing to be afraid of.