LONDON – As the shot fell through the net, Kobe Bryant held up three fingers on each hand. It was his third straight 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, enough for the U.S. men’s Olympic team to finally put away stubborn Australia.
Yes, all’s fine with Bryant, and the Americans’ gold medal hopes as well.
Bryant silenced his critics and broke open a tight game with six 3-pointers in the second half Wednesday night as the U.S. advanced to the semifinals of the London Games with a 119-86 victory over Australia.
“Somebody made him mad. I could see it in his eyes,” American Kevin Durant said. “I wanted him to kind of turn it on and that’s what he did.”
On a night when LeBron James had a triple-double, the story was Bryant’s awakening from his Olympic slumber. The five-time NBA champion has even said this team could have beaten the Dream Team, and on the 20th anniversary of that squad’s gold medal win, he put on the kind of show that makes his claim hard to dismiss.
Bryant scored all of his 20 points after halftime, finally delivering the kind of game expected of him in London.
He had insisted his time would come, and none of his teammates doubted it.
“I kind of knew what button to push with him. I was talking to him at halftime and in the third quarter and I guess I pushed the button. He woke up and to see that, I’ve been on the other side of the ball and had that situation before,” teammate Carmelo Anthony said.
Bryant, a top-five scorer in NBA history, brushed away Anthony’s attempts to take credit as easily as the questions he’s been hearing in London.
“He was just saying, ‘Let’s see what we see during the season.’ But by that point, I was already revved up,” Bryant said.
James finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for the Americans, who advanced to their third straight Olympic semifinal meeting with Argentina, which beat Brazil earlier Wednesday. Deron Williams added 18 points, Anthony had 17 and Durant 14.
The Americans beat the Argentines 126-97 on Monday in the final game of pool play, another night they didn’t need much from Bryant, who came in averaging just 9.4 points and hearing whispers that something must be wrong with him, though both he and his teammates kept assuring people there was no problem.
Bryant finished 6 of 10 behind the arc, making three straight in the fourth quarter as part of a 17-2 run to blow it open, the crowd chanting “Kobe! Kobe!” before he finally missed on a ridiculously long attempt before calling it a night.
Patty Mills (Saint Mary’s) scored 26 points and Joe Ingles had 19 for Australia, which had the misfortune of running into the U.S. in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics.
“The difference in the game was their transition buckets and 3-pointers, and Kobe got a little bit sniff,” Mills said. “And for great teams, that’s all they need and they stretch it out.”
The Americans expect another challenge from Argentina, which beat the U.S. in 2004 on its way to the gold medal.
Russia plays Spain in the other semifinal.
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