Kevin Durant, left, celebrates with U.S. teammate Carmelo Anthony after Anthony hit a big shot in the second half of Friday’s Olympic semifinal game against Argentina. The Americans won, 109-83, and will now play Spain for the gold medal Sunday.
U.S. WOMEN FACE FRANCE TODAY FOR GOLD:
LONDON — It looks like a mismatch of Olympic-size proportion.
The dominant U.S. women’s basketball team, which has won 40 straight Olympic games, seeks its fifth consecutive gold medal Saturday against upstart France, which has never won any medal in women’s hoops.
“They’re a team nobody really talked about heading into the tournament, but personally I knew that was going to be a team we might have to face,” said U.S. point guard Sue Bird.
France is undefeated in the tournament along with the U.S., although the Americans have beaten teams by 34 points a game, France just eight.
Nonetheless, Bird knows a win won’t be automatic.
“I’ve played with all their girls and know how talented they are,” she said.
Both teams are assured of walking away with at least the silver medal, but anything less than gold for the Americans would be considered a monumental failure.
The U.S. has cruised through the Olympics during its impressive run. Only one team has come within single digits of the Americans since the streak started in 1996. They have only lost once in major international competitions since the Atlanta Games — the lone blemish coming against Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 world championship.
The players are aware a loss would be devastating.
“This is USA Basketball’s streak,” Candace Parker said. “We’re just trying not to be the people that end it. I want a second gold medal. There are people that want a third. And some are looking for their first. So all of us are fighting for something in our own way.”
The U.S. faced its first challenge of the London Games in the semifinals when Australia took a four-point halftime lead. It was the first time in 12 years that the Americans had been trailing at the half. There was no panic or worry. They just stepped up their defense and vanquished the Australians, winning by 13 points.
Still, Bird said the Americans aren’t feeling any pressure heading into Saturday’s final.
“We’ve been taking it one game at a time all along, so this is just the next one,” she said. “Obviously there is a lot more at stake, but we really aren’t thinking that way.”
France won’t be playing tight either. The French team has already made great strides — clinching the country’s first medal ever in women’s basketball.
The victory over Russia in the semifinals set off a wild celebration for the unbeaten French, who have been on the rise in women’s basketball over the past few years. They won the European Championship in 2009 and qualified for the Olympics for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games where they finished fifth. In this tournament France has already defeated Australia in an overtime thriller and now topped Russia twice.
A win over the Americans would be incredible.
“Nobody talks about us. We don’t exist in the Olympic Village,” said French coach Pierre Vincent. “The only way to exist is to win. I told the girls in the locker room, if we win, we will exist.”
The French have been led by flashy point guard Celine Dumerc. She has been the catalyst for this remarkable run. Her 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime helped beat Britain in the preliminary round. She also hit a big 3-pointer against Australia and two clinching free throws in the team’s four-point win over Canada.
“She’s having a tournament for the ages,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said of Dumerc. “She’s definitely been the MVP.”
Bird wasn’t surprised at France’s incredible run to the championship game. After all, the French had been her sleeper team all along.
It will be the first time the two teams have played in the Olympics. France isn’t scared of the world’s top team.
“They are a very good basketball nation. I play against them the whole year round,” French forward Sandrine Gruda said. “It’s going to be good. We’re not going to give up because it USA. We’re competitors.”
It will be the first time since 1996 that the Americans won’t be facing Australia for the gold.
LONDON — LeBron James turned away from his teammates gathered in the center circle and waved to the fans as if to say: “See you Sunday.”
Right where the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team always expected to be, in the gold medal game, against the opponent it figured to see again.
“Anything less than this would have been unsatisfying for us,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We believe that we could get here, and we’re here now. We got one game left.”
Kevin Durant scored 19 points, James and Anthony added 18 apiece, and the U.S. turned on its slamming-and-shooting spectacle in the second half to overwhelm Argentina for the second time in five days, 109-83, in the semifinals Friday night.
The U.S. will play Spain on Sunday, a rematch of the Americans’ victory four years ago for the gold medal in Beijing.
“I think it’s only right,” James said. “Everyone said that this is the game they wanted to see. We look forward to it. We’re happy as a team we’re able to be back in this position. We’ve got to defend, we’ve got to rebound, we’ve got to share the ball.”
It’a daunting challenge for Spain.
The Americans have said they believe this team is better than the ’08 gold medalists, and they are certainly more potent — with a chance to end up outscoring the original Dream Team in 1992. They have breezed through the London Games, winning by an average of 36 points.
“You have three scorers on this team who get blistering hot if they make two shots in a row,” said Kobe Bryant, playing in his second Olympics. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Spain can’t afford many mistakes.
“They’ve got to play almost a perfect game and they’ve got to force them to play 5-on-5 and not let them run,” said Argentine star Manu Ginobili, who scored 18 points and now will play Russia for the bronze medal on Sunday. “But yeah, yeah, they can be beat. It’s not easy. The odds are not with Spain, but, of course, if you play your best game and they’re not very inspired, you’ve got a shot.”
Argentina, playing the U.S. in the semifinals for the third straight Olympics, hung around until early in the second half, just as it did Monday in the final game of pool play.
And just like that night, the Americans hit them with a wave of dunks and 3-pointers in the third quarter that turned it into a romp.
While not quite as explosive as their 42-17 period in Monday’s 126-97 win, this one had just as many highlights.
Ahead by only four after Ginobili opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, the Americans pulled away with James’ strength and Durant’s shot.
Durant made two 3-pointers in an 8-0 spurt that pushed the lead to 13, and when Argentina got back within eight, the NBA’s MVP and runner-up teamed up to blow it open.
James had a basket and drove for a powerful dunk while being fouled. Durant followed with consecutive 3-pointers, James tipped in a miss, and suddenly the lead was 19, 72-53, with 1:30 left in the period.
“We had a great run in the first half,” Ginobili said. “We started the third very well. And then we blinked.”
It became a runaway in the fourth when Anthony hit three 3-pointers in 42 seconds, the American bench spilling onto the floor as he strutted back to midcourt after the last one made it 93-64.
Otherwise, there was little celebrating for the Americans during or after the game.
The party they want can’t come until Sunday afternoon.
“It’s been a fun ride, but we want to compete on Sunday,” forward Kevin Love said.
The U.S. beat Spain 118-107 in the Beijing final, pulling away after leading by just four with about 2½ minutes left. The Spanish are ranked second in the world behind the Americans, and have much more size with brothers Pau and Marc Gasol.
“We’ll have a difficult challenge with Spain because they’re really big. But they’ll have a challenge with us, too,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Bryant finished with 13 points, hours after seeing his chances strengthen for another title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
This glowing group of bright stars couldn’t even make basketball’s biggest news Friday, that coming when Orlando finally traded All-Star center to Dwight Howard to the Lakers in a four-team deal. U.S. swingman Andre Iguodala was part of it, getting sent from Philadelphia to Denver.
Howard was supposed to be here, forced to pull out because of back surgery. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose also were lost to injuries.
The Americans seem just fine without them.
The climb back to the top of the basketball world after Argentina beat them in the 2004 semifinals was a difficult one for the Americans.
Staying there seems inevitable.
Though the Americans did have a close game against Lithuania, they are averaging 116.7 points — right behind the Dream Team’s record of 117.3 — with a low of 98.
They’ve defended only as much as they felt they needed to — and that hasn’t been much — but came out locked in on that end Friday.
Durant blocked Luis Scola’s shot into the U.S. bench, then stole his pass for an uncontested dunk and a 15-4 lead. A 3-pointer by Bryant made it 18-6, but Argentina ran off nine straight points to get within three, and the U.S. lead was just 24-19 after one.
With the U.S. leading by three early in the second, Krzyzewski inserted James, Bryant and Durant together, and James quickly took over the game. Powering to the basket and daring any Argentine player to get in front of him, he scored seven straight points, turning a 30-27 edge into a 10-point lead.
The Argentines hung in behind their 3-point shooting, Ginobili beating the buzzer with their fifth of the period to pull within 47-40 at the half.
Scola and Carlos Delfino added 15 points apiece for Argentina, trying to go out with a third straight Olympic medal for its “Golden Generation,” the group of veterans who helped the Argentines replace the Americans atop the basketball world for a time.
But they haven’t been able to find enough young stars to mix in with their old-timers, while the Americans have blended in youngsters like Durant and Russell Westbrook from their team that won the world basketball championships two years ago.
Maris Strombergs of Latvia won his first gold in 2008. Now he has two.
Strombergs defended his BMX title over a harrowing course in Olympic Park, taking the lead at the start and never relinquishing it. He cruised across the finish line in 37.576 seconds to add to the title he won in Beijing, when the sport made its Olympic debut.
“It’s just amazing,” Strombergs said. “I think everyone at home, they watched the race, and deep inside they were hoping I could repeat, and I think my country believed in me.”
Former world champion Mariana Pajon won the women’s BMX competition, giving Colombia its first gold at the London Games. With David Beckham watching from the stands, Pajon hit form at the right time after being hampered by a shoulder injury earlier this season.
The rest of the Olympic action Friday:
Ous Mellouli of Tunisia won the grueling 10-kilometer race to become the first swimmer to win medals in the pool and open water at the same Olympics.
Mellouli pulled away from a small group of leaders in the fifth of six laps and finished in 1 hour, 49 minutes, 55.1 seconds in the murky waters of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. He also won bronze in the 1,500-meter freestyle last week.
It was the second gold of Mellouli’s Olympic career. He also took the 1,500 at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Thomas Lurz of Germany was second, 3.4 seconds behind, and first-time Olympian Richard Weinberger of Canada grabbed the bronze.
The crowd favorite was Benjamin Schulte, a 16-year-old from Guam, who finished far behind all the other competitors. Fans stuck around and applauded loudly when Schulte finally finished nearly 14 minutes after Mellouli.
Australia’s Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page, and New Zealand’s Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie won the 470 class gold medals by overwhelming their British rivals on Weymouth Bay.
The victory by Belcher and Page guaranteed that Australia will win more sailing gold medals than the strong, well-funded British team. That’s a remarkable feat, although the British will lead all countries with five sailing medals — one gold and four silvers. The British came in thinking they had a shot at medals in all 10 classes.
The Aussies lead the British 3-1 in golds, with only the women’s match racing to be decided. The Australians will pick up either a gold or silver in that event Saturday as skipper Olivia Price and her crew advanced to the final against Spain’s Tamara Dominguez and her crew.
The Americans failed to win an Olympic sailing medal for the first time since 1936.
There’s no question which country is the best at synchronized swimming.
Russia grabbed the team gold medal for its fourth consecutive team victory and sixth straight overall gold.
The Russians totaled 197.030 points with a free routine featuring swimmers doing acrobatic flips and pirouetting like ballerinas above the water.
The team of Anastasia Davydova, Maria Gromova, Natalia Ishchenko, Elvira Khasyanova, Alexandra Patskevich, Svetlana Romashina, Anzhelika Timanina and Alla Shishkina swam in black, red and gold suits featuring a spider web design on the back.
China earned the silver at 194.010, and Spain took the bronze four years after winning silver in Beijing.
Ed McKeever of Britain clocked the quickest time over the heats and semifinals as the 200-meter canoe sprint made its Olympic debut.
Racing in front of a flag-waving crowd under sunny, cloudless skies at Dorney Lake, the barrel-chested McKeever crossed in 35.087 seconds in his heat and then easily won his semifinal.
Canoeing officials replaced the 500-meter race with the 200 sprint in a bid to inject more excitement into the sport and attempt to move it out from rowing’s shadow at the Olympics. The 200 races were played out in front of the whole length of three packed grandstands, generating a vibrant atmosphere.
In the only 200-meter event for women, Lisa Carrington of New Zealand and Natasa Douchev-Janics of Hungary set up a probable shootout in the K-1 final.
ELSEWHERE IN LONDON
Park Chu-young scored to lead South Korea to a 2-0 victory over Japan and a bronze medal in men’s soccer. Brazil and Mexico play in the gold-medal match Saturday at Wembley Stadium. … Dzhamal Otarsultanov won the men’s 55-kg freestyle category, beating Vladimer Khinchegashvili of Georgia to give the Russians four wrestling golds at the games, tops for any nation.