RIO DE JANEIRO — Carmelo Anthony didn’t just become Team USA’s all-time leading scorer in the Olympics on Wednesday at Youth Arena. He saved the Americans from a shocking upset, as they downed Australia 98-88 to improve to 3-0 at the Olympics.
This night that looked for a while to be nothing more than a novelty – the New York Knicks star passing LeBron James as the all-time American leading scorer in American Olympics history en route to an expected win – eventually became one of Anthony’s most memorable performances in his decorated international career. Anthony, who finished with a game-high 31 points on 11-of-21 shooting, hit three three-pointers in a little more than two minutes midway through the fourth quarter to put the Americans up 83-76 with 5:32 remaining.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving took over from there, with no shot bigger than his three-pointer from the right wing with 1:35 left that put the Americans up 93-86. Irving, who is from Australia and even considered playing for their national team in his earlier years, finished with 19 points and five assists.
The Australians, with five NBA players (four of whom have won NBA titles), were led by San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills (30 points, including six three-pointers) and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Matthew Dellavedova (11 points and 11 assists).
The Americans have now won 71 consecutive games in all, 48 in FIBA and FIBA Americas competition. But that streak was in serious jeopardy for most of the night.
Since Jerry Colangelo overhauled the national program in 2006, Team USA had gone a remarkable 82-1. The lone loss, the one that Anthony talks about so often as the only remaining member of that squad, was the game against Greece in the 2006 World Championships in Japan that led to their bronze medal finish.
Team USA looked to be on their way early, when Anthony opened with back-to-back three-pointers and Team USA led 6-0. But the Aussies went on a 25-11 run that brought everyone in attendance a smidge forward in their seats. By halftime, as the Americans trailed for the first time since 2004 (54-49), it was clear the Australian threat was real. The Americans led 70-67 after three quarters.