It certainly wasn’t smooth from start-to-finish, but USA Basketball pieced together a third-straight victory. After falling behind early in the first half to Spain, the U.S. men’s national team pulled ahead for the 95-81 win Tuesday in Tokyo.
That advanced the Americans to the semifinals of the Olympics, where it’ll face the winner of either Australia or Argentina. The semifinals will tip off Thursday, with the gold-medal game scheduled for Friday.
“There’s a lot on the line,” Jayson Tatum said after the win on NBC. “It’s win-or-go-home right now. Everybody gotta do, contribute, do something extra and make sure we win.”
It was a close game throughout as the teams were tied 43-43 at halftime. Spain dangerously looked like it was going to run away when it sprinted to a nine-point lead in the first half, using a 25-12 run.
But America was quick to respond before halftime. The U.S. finished on an 11-2 run before the break to knot the score. USA kept the pressure on, going on a 22-6 run out of halftime to build its lead.
Spain wasn’t about to go down easily, though. It went on a 15-5 run to end the third quarter to creep it back to a single-digit game. But the Americans — despite Ricky Rubio going off for Spain — finished down the stretch to complete the win.
It was the Kevin Durant show as he put up his second-straight stellar game, pouring in 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting. He was a big part of the Americans’ early comeback, putting on a scoring burst when Team USA needed it.
Tatum once again came off the bench, though he played sparingly throughout the first half. He had a marquee game against the Czech Republic last time out with a game-high 27 points. Tatum came back to life in the fourth quarter — in what’s becoming a recent trend — as he finished with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting in 18 minutes.
Rubio led Spain with a sparkling 38 points, shooting 13-for-20 from the field and 4-for-7 on 3-pointers. The newest Cleveland Cavalier was crucial to keeping Spain in the game when the U.S. threatened to run away with the win at multiple points.
The victory ensures the Americans will, at the very minimum, play for a medal. One more win for Team USA results in a podium finish with a medal; two more wins guarantees the gold. Of course, the Americans are setting their heights higher than just a bronze or silver: a fourth-straight gold medal.