Kobe Bryant is all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the fans and media pundits back home, but he knows what they’ve been thinking. He knows they were wondering when he was going to break out of his scoring doldrums, when he was going to live up to his international stardom. A guy known around the world by his first name is expected to average more than 9.4 points against the likes of Lithuania, France and Nigeria.
Finally, after a scoreless first half against Australia in the Olympic quarterfinal late Wednesday night, Bryant erupted with a dazzling performance that delighted the North Greenwich Arena crowd. He scored six three-pointers in the second half — three in a span of 66 seconds — and finished with 20 points as Team USA turned a three-point lead into a 119-86 victory.
Heat star LeBron James recorded the first triple-double in Olympic history — 11 points, 14 rebounds (11 defensive), and 11 assists. Carmelo Anthony added 17 points, Deron Williams had 18, and Kevin Durant scored 14.
The United States will play Argentina in the semifinals in a rematch of Monday’s final group-play game, which Team USA won 126-97 after leading by just one at halftime. Argentina eliminated Brazil 82-77 in the quarterfinals earlier Wednesday. Spain plays Russia in the other semifinal.
Anthony took some credit for Bryant’s awakening. At some point early in the third quarter, he gave the Lakers star a quick pep talk, told him he wanted to see the Bryant he sees in the NBA.
“I was on him,” Anthony said. “I woke the bomb up, and he responded in the third quarter. I knew which button to push.”
Bryant smiled and agreed Anthony’s words might have helped.
“I wasn’t playing a good tournament. he told me he wanted to see me,” Bryant conceded. “For some reason, it was my night. When you play with this team, you get a lot of open shots. I was just waiting for something to get me going. I got some shots, got into rhythm.”
Australian fans like to chant “Oi! Oi! Oi!” at their sporting events, but it was American fans probably thinking “Oy!” after Australia went on an 11-0 run to start the second half. Patty Mills, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs, opened the second half with a three-pointer, and then stole the ball from Kevin Durant for a fast-break layup. Joe Ingles followed with back-to-back three-pointers and all of a sudden the U.S. lead was trimmed to 56-53.
Durant hit a three to stop the bleeding, and James and Bryant took charge from there. When Bryant made his sixth three-pointer, Team USA led 105-80, and then James made a behind-the-back pass to Kevin Love, who scored to make it 107-80. At that point, the U.S. starters came out of the game.
“They kept up with us in the first three quarters, but in the fourth we took over,” James said. “We are playing some good basketball as a team. We try to come in waves.”
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski heaped praise on James, calling his play “magnificent, so unselfish,” and said the NBA’s Most Valuable Player is “our best basketball player” through six games.
“That’s LeBron for you,” he said. ”Everyone the last few years has talked about him at crunch time, but you just saw him come off one of the greatest playoff performances of all time, and you see him here. He’s our leader, a guy that continues to show us why he’s the best. Right now he’s the best player on this team, simple as that.”
The Aussies accepted the loss with grace.
“We were fully aware what we were getting into,” Australian coach Brett Brown said. “The U.S. is a different collection of athletes than the other teams. Kobe had those two runs of threes, and the game blew out. I don’t believe the final margin was indicative of the game.”
Added Matt Nielsen: “When you turn the ball over against them, it’s ridiculous how it starts raining down. But we put ourselves in the mix with that kind of team, and I have nothing but pride for our team.”
Mills led Australia with 26 points and Ingles had 19.