SAITAMA: USA's Kevin Wayne Durant (center) runs with the ball past Australia's Chris Goulding (left) and Nic Kay in the men's semi-final basketball match between Australia and USA during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama yesterday. – AFP

SAITAMA: Kevin Durant scored 23 points and Devin Booker added 20 to power three-time defending champions United States past Australia 97-78 yesterday and into an Olympic men's basketball final against France. The Americans were 24-18 behind after the first quarter and 45-42 adrift at halfway, but stormed back during a dominant third term to stay on track for a fourth consecutive gold medal.

They will face two-time runners-up France, who upset them in the group phase, in tomorrow's showdown after the world number seven battled past Olympic debutants Slovenia 90-89 in a thriller. Nando De Colo poured in a game-best 25 points and Boston Celtics' Evan Fournier added 23 to give their team a third crack at upsetting the US after failing to do so in their two previous Olympic finals in 1948 and 2000.

Beating Australia was revenge for Gregg Popovich's USA who had crashed to Patty Mills' Boomers in their past two meetings, including a demoralizing 91-83 defeat in Las Vegas last month. They also lost 98-94 in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup in Melbourne. But when it comes to the Olympics the US are dominant and stretched their lead over their long-time foes at the Games to 9-0, crushing Australia's title dreams. "We knew Australia would come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early, see how we respond," said the Brooklyn Nets' Durant.

"We stuck with it, stuck with our principles, made a couple of switches on defense, and we were able to get some momentum going into the (second) half. Guys came out with that intensity, making shots as well. We've been down 15 in games before and came back," he added. "It don't matter what level it was at, or where it's at. A lot of guys have been in that position before. We know how to handle ourselves."

Australia, the world's third-ranked team, have never finished on the Olympic podium and they now face another bronze medal match, having contested four previously and lost the lot. "A medal's still what we came here to do, even though it's not going to be gold or silver," said their disappointed Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle. "Bronze is going to be the first ever for Australia so that's still a really big deal for us and we still have a lot to fight for."


The Americans opened their Olympic campaign with a shock defeat to France but have slowly found their groove, with Durant again pacing their offense. He was averaging 18 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game heading into the semi-final and once more proved authoritative. Boomers center Joe Ingles sunk seven points, including two 3-pointers, in the first quarter to send his team into the second period with a six-point cushion. Outside the arc shooting had been US team's primary weapon in Japan, but they struggled early against the Australians.

The Boomers opened a 15-point lead in the second term as they took charge on the fast-break. But the reigning champions blew the game open in the third quarter, dominating it 32-10, taking the lead when Damian Lillard nailed two points inside the paint as part of a 12-point run. It helped open a 19-point buffer going into the final stretch and they never looked back.

France lost in the last two Olympic quarter-finals at London and Rio to send four-time NBA championship-winning Tony Parker into retirement without a medal. But they now have a golden chance to take a maiden title. Slovenia came out fast and were ahead for almost the entire the first quarter, with Luka Doncic and Mike Tobey both netting 10 points each to take a two-point advantage into the second term. They led by the same margin at half-time, but a stronger third quarter saw France go into the final stretch with a 71-65 lead and they held on in a tense finale. - AFP