U.S. guard Kobe Bryant celebrates after making a three-pointer against… (Charles Krupa / Associated…)
Below are five things to take from Team USA's 119-86 win Wednesday over Australia in the quarterfinals at the 2012 London Olympics. Team USA plays Argentina in a semifinal match on Friday.
1. LeBron James had a solid all-around game. He has carried Team USA in nearly every facet of the game so far in these Olympics. So it's not surprising that James recorded a triple double (11 points on three-of-seven shooting, 14 rebounds and 12 assists) against Australia. It's also not surprising that James eclipsed Charles Barkley as Team USA's third-best all-time scorer (236 points) behind Michael Jordan (256) and David Robinson (280). But it was still a marvel to see James perform.
He threw a no-look baseline feed to Carmelo Anthony for a score. James then tossed a no-look bounce pass to Russell Westbrook for an easy bucket. James threw cross-court passes to Kevin Durant, Deron Williams and Kobe Bryant for easy catch-and-shoot opportunities. With Tyson Chandler getting in early foul trouble again, James slid over at center to defend, rebound and direct the offense. He also scored too, attacking the basket whenever defenses gave him an opening. Team USA has well-documented talent and depth, but its has executed well only in spurts. The lone exception has been James. He has carried the team with his scoring and facilitating by averaging 11.5 points on 58.3% shooting, 5.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists through six games.
2. Bryant overcame a rough start. As he processed a scoreless first half that featured horrific shooting (0 for 4), two turnovers and a lack of rhythm, Bryant told NBC Sports' Craig Sager that he "just had to come up with something that would make me angry." The Lakers star declined to say what, but you could throw in the general public's discounting him as old and one outlet's advocating that he lose his starting position. Whatever motivated Bryant, it worked.
His first field goal happened at the 5:02 mark of the third quarter when he nailed an open three-pointer off a catch-and-shoot from James. On the next possession, Bryant stole the ball from Australia's David Barlow and then hit a three-pointer in transition. Suddenly, Team USA led 70-58 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
Bryant wasn't finished, though.
Bryant hit four consecutive three pointers, including one in which he pump-faked his opponent. The others came off of James' effective swing and cross-court passes.
As much as Lakers fans may want to say Bryant proved wrong everyone who raised objections about his first half-play, his second half simply validates those criticisms. The difference between Bryant's first and second half mostly involves his rhythm. In the first half, Bryant forced shots in isolation, took deep three-pointers and committed two turnovers by trying to force the issue in the lane. When he also defended Australian point guard Patty Mills, he drilled three-pointers on consecutive possessions.
That first half-play prompted Celtics Coach Doc Rivers and 76ers Coach Doug Collins to point out Bryant's poor rhythm and shot selection on the NBC Sports telecast. Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski, as reported by Sager, implored Bryant at halftime to find a way to be effective. Bryant adjusted by making sure his shots came within the flow of the offense. The effort also played a large part in Team USA's securing the win after Australia remained within striking distance for most of the game.
3. Team USA overcame its poor offense because of rebounding. It made only 39 of 86 from the field (45.3%), but that didn't matter. James and Kevin Love made up for the team's inconsistent perimeter shooting and ball movement by combining for 25 rebounds. In fact, Team USA accounted for 16 of its 29 rebounds on the offensive end. That amounted to 19 second-chance points, making Team USA's offense look more dominant than it actually was.
4. Williams had a breakout game on the bench. After playing for most of the Olympics trying to find his role behind Chris Paul, the Nets guard found his niche against Australia. He scored 18 points on four-of-10 shooting -- three of seven from three-point range -- and seven of seven from the free-throw line. Williams' 13 first-half points came at a critical time considering Bryant's struggles and the team's sluggish offense (sans James). He nailed three treys because he spaced the floor well with James off catch-and-shoot plays. When they weren't open, Williams looked aggressive in attacking the basket, resulting in pull-up jumpers and trips to the foul line.
5. Durant had the best highlight play. Durant's four-of-nine mark from three-point range played a larger part in Team USA's win, but his dunk late in the third quarter was impressive. With 1:31 remaining in the third quarter, Durant drove the lane past a pair of defenders, threw down a two-handed dunk along the baseline and then swung around the rim.
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