SAITAMA: The United States kept their basketball gold medal dreams on track Tuesday by sweeping past world champions Spain 95-81 and into the semi-finals, while Olympic debutants Slovenia crushed Germany to set up a last-four clash with France. Sharp-shooting Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant poured in 29 points and four assists for the Americans while Boston’s Jayson Tatum chipped in with 13, nullifying Ricky Rubio’s dazzling 38-point spree for Spain. The three-time defending champions will next face Patty Mills’ Australia, who convincingly beat Argentina 97-59, for a place in Saturday’s final.
World number three Australia are yet to finish on the podium at the Olympic Games, despite contesting the bronze medal match on four occasions. But with NBA stars like Mills and Joe Ingles in their ranks they believe they have enough firepower to break the drought in Japan. Slovenia progressed on the back of 27 points from Zoran Dragic and another 20 from Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic in their 94-70 rout of Germany.
They will meet France who edged Italy 84-75 in a nail-biter, with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert drilling 22 points and fellow NBA mainstay Evan Fournier getting 21. Gregg Popovich’s USA team came to Tokyo with two shock defeats in exhibition games and then crashed in their opener against eventual Group A winners France — their first defeat at an Olympics since 2004. But they have steadied the ship and came through a see-sawing clash after knuckling down in the final stretch to go 13-0 against their rivals in Olympic competition.
“We’re in a good spot right now. Guys are starting to understand their roles and just get more comfortable within the team,” said Durant. “I love how we stuck with it throughout this whole period of time and guys started figuring out what we need to do. We’re supposed to be here (in the semis). For us it’s about getting a gold.”
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Rubio drilled 13 points to put Spain into a 21-19 lead after the first quarter as the US gave up a seven-point advantage. They traded the lead in a back-and-forth second quarter before Spain went on a 10-point run to move 39-29 clear. But inspired by Durant, the US fought back and two points inside the paint from Devin Booker with seconds to go drew them level 43-43 at the break.
The tide looked to turn in the third period with the US building a 22-6 streak to take charge before Spain regained ground to go into the final quarter just six points adrift at 69-63. With their reputation at stake — they have medalled in all 18 Olympics they have competed at, winning 15 golds, a silver and two bronze — the USA put their heads down to ensure they stayed in the tournament.
“They made some tough shots in the third quarter and we could not contain their firepower,” said Spain’s Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol. “They made shots: 95 points is too many for us to win a game.” Earlier, world number 16 Slovenia continued their dream run against a German side ranked a place below them. “We knew it was not going to be an easy game. Even though everybody before the game expected us to win easy, it wasn’t easy,” said Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic. “These guys, they put their hearts out on the court.”
Small forward Dragic, who plies his trade in Spain, was at the heart of the action with six rebounds and four assists to go with his 85 percent scoring percentage. Their next opponents are France who had lost in the last two Olympic quarter-finals to send four-time NBA championship-winning Tony Parker into retirement without a medal. They went one better this time thanks to Gobert and Fournier as they look to match or better the silver medals they won in 1948 and 2000, losing to the US both times. – AFP