LONDON — All’s fine with Kobe Bryant, and the gold medal hopes of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, too.
Bryant silenced his critics and broke open a tight game with six 3-pointers in the second half Wednesday night as the Americans advanced to the semifinals of the London Games with a 119-86 victory over Australia.
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 scored 20 points, flashing three fingers in the air after his third consecutive 3-pointer in the fourth quarter had pushed the game well out of reach and proved that he would indeed deliver the kind of game expected of him in London.
“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.
James finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 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 Kevin Durant 14.
The Americans beat the Argentines 126-97 on Monday in the final game of pool play, yet 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.
This time was different, and he delivered when he was needed most.
“Just kind of searching for something to get me going, for something that would activate the Black Mamba, as Coach calls it,” Bryant said.
Australia scored the first 11 points of the second half, cutting the Americans’ lead to three after back-to-back 3-pointers by Joe Ingles. The U.S. lead was only six before Bryant, who has never gotten in an offensive rhythm in London and just minutes earlier had committed another puzzling offensive foul, finally broke out.
He made a 3-pointer, then batted away a pass, chased it down along the left sideline and pulled up for another 3 that made it 70-58. James followed with a basket that pushed it to 14, and the Americans never let the Australians get much closer.
Not the way Bryant shot, anyway.
He finished 6 of 10 behind the arc, making three straight in the fourth quarter 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 scored 26 points and Ingles had 19 for Australia, which had the misfortune of running into the U.S. in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics.
Even the Australian fans were cheering for Bryant as he walked to the locker room after a postgame interview. First, he knocked fists with the Aussies’ kangeroo mascot, wearing boxing gloves on his hands.
Bryant sure knocked out the Australians.
Bodies fell and blood flowed in a physical first half, the Americans taking plenty of hits but delivering them as well, such as the one that sent Australia’s David Barlow to the bench with a bloody nose that took a while to control.
But the spirited play brought out the best in Bryant, who insists he’s content taking a lesser role with other, much younger scorers such as James, Durant and Anthony willing to carry the load.
He said the same things in Beijing and came through with 20 points in the gold-medal game, so the Americans know they can count on him to rise to a challenge.
They expect another one from Argentina, which beat the U.S. in 2004 on its way to the gold medal, a loss the Americans avenged before winning gold in Beijing.
Russia plays Spain in the other semifinal.