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Team USA heads to gold medal game vs. France Friday after Kevin Durant leads them to win vs. Australia, 97-78

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It was a tale of two halves for Team USA Thursday morning but by game’s end, the Americans, led by Kevin Durant, were one game away from their fourth straight Olympic gold medal. Following two losses in exhibition games and a loss to France in the Olympics’ opening round, the US is rolling. Final score, Team USA, 97, Australia’s Boomers 78. It was a game that featured a 35-point turnaround from the first to the third quarter.

Team USA will now play France Friday night for the gold. France defeated Slovenia, 90-89, later on Thursday on late game heroics by the Nets Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Nicolas Batum.

After struggling in the first half against Australia’s tenacious play on both ends of the court, Team USA caught fire behind the play of Kevin Durant in the late second, then buried the Boomers in the third. After another slow start, the U.S erased a 15-point deficit on a 16-4 run in the second to head into the locker room trailing 45-42. Not even solid play from Australia’s leader — and the newest Net — Patty Mills could counter KD.

Team USA carried over their hot offense in the third and complimented the onslaught with their own tenacious defense, holding Australia scoreless in the opening three minutes of the third frame. Sparked by the early defense, the floodgates opened for Team USA.

The U.S dominated in the third and got their three-ball to fall after making only two in the first half, shooting 50 percent (4-of-8) from deep. The offensive onslaught — led by Durant, Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday — translated to a 33-10 frame to enter the fourth with a commanding 74-55 advantage. And that was all she wrote.

“When we pointed it out, they reacted,” Popovich said. “In the last five minutes of the second quarter, they were fantastic, and it continued into the third. I give them credit for understanding the game as well as being able to accept the truth. Because you can be with some players that you can tell them something, but they don’t buy it because they can’t handle certain kinds of criticism. But these guys want the truth, and they react to it.”

In another statement game by the new U.S Olympic men’s all-time scorer, Durant finished with 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field and 1-of-7 from deep, along with nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal.

Basketball - Olympics: Day 13 Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Booker went on to record 20 points, three rebounds and one assist followed by Jrue Holiday with an impressive all-around game of 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Khris Middleton contributed a solid offensive boost off the bench with 11

“We respect every team here,” Damian Lillard said. “A lot of these guys have played together for years and years and years. They come play FIBA, and the Olympics and all these things all the time together. And for us, we’re just putting a team together of a bunch of talented individuals trying to become a team in a short amount of time. I think now we’re starting to gel and become more of a team, and we’re starting to play better.”

The Aussies’ turnovers continued to mount to begin the fourth, draining the momentum of a possible comeback. So, with 3:59 remaining, Australia’s head coach Brian Goorjian pulled his starters. Australia will now play the loser of the France Slovenia game on Saturday.

Mills, who agreed to sign a two-year, $12 million deal with the Nets Wednesday, led Australia with a strong performance 15 points (5-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from deep), eight assists and five rebounds. Post-game, Gregg Popovich, head coach of Team USA and the Spurs, said Mills moving on to Brooklyn “is a great move for him.”

“We’ve talked before about what a wonderful human being he is,” Popovich said. “He’s a really unique player. And he has been special for the Spurs, but he’s moving on to Brooklyn now and we’ll miss him a great deal.”

Popovich admitted that he “felt badly.”

“I’m thrilled with the victory, obviously, but when I looked him in the eyes (postgame) I felt badly,” Popovich said. “They do have great camaraderie and history and culture and want it just as badly as any of us. That was a little bit sad, but that’s what we all do, we all try to win.”

Dante Exum — the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and currently a free agent — finished with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists in the loss.

The final minute of the France-Slovenia game provided some big plays. TLC hit a three with 59 seconds left, giving Les Bleus a five point lead. Then, with time running out and France up by one, Batum blocked a potential go-ahead basket to close out the game. TLC finished with 15 points and five boards, hitting three of his four 3-pointers, off the bench.

Nets players are now guaranteed at least two Olympic medals — for KD and Luwawu-Cabarrot — and could pick up a third if Mills’ Boomers defeat Slovenia in the bronze medal game on Saturday. Durant would become only the second Nets player to win a gold medal. Deron Williams won gold at the London Olympics in 2012. Jeff Turner, who the Nets drafted in 1984, won a gold later that summer, then signed with New Jersey.

Team USA will play France in the gold medal game, which is scheduled for Friday, August 5 at 10:15 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on NBC as well as Peacock. The bronze medal game will be played at 7 a.m. on Saturday.