Has Team USA's aura of invincibility at the Olympics been dented?
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Rio Olympic rivals saw the US NBA squad's aura of invincibility punctured with a down-to-the-wire win over Australia, but the American millionaires say they were happy for the true challenge.
Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points and passed LeBron James to become the all-time US Olympic scoring leader in a 98-88 victory, but the two-time defending champions could not escape the stubborn Boomers' threat until the dying seconds.
"I feel like we needed a test like that to prepare for what's ahead of us," Irving said. "We definitely took some steps in the right direction and building our character and identity as a team."
The Americans next face Serbia on Friday with a Sunday date against France to end their preliminary round play. Two wins will make them a top seed for next week's playoff rounds.
It was the 20th US victory in a row since the Americans lost to Argentina in a semi-final at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
"It was a tough game. Adversity is always good," said US forward Kevin Durant. "We fought through. That's good for us just to see where we are. We needed it.
"We've all been through tough times playing basketball, been through tough stretches. We kind of know how to dig ourselves out of it."
The US team is 8-0 against France in world and Olympic play and beat Serbia on the way to a world title in 2014, but the sense now is that the Americans will have to handle playing from behind and pressuring defence from rivals with plenty of NBA talent also.
"We have a very resilient attitude," Irving said. "When you have a resilient group like this with tons of talent, when you're facing adversity, it makes it easy to come out of it."
US cosach Mike Krzyzewski has plenty of worries in analyzing the US path going into the knockout stages.
"You're talking about two of the top international programs, two of the top level teams in the world," he said. "We played against Serbia in the World Cup championship – unbelievably well coached.
"And in France, you have a team that has played so well and has many NBA players and play well together in (Tony) Parker, (Nicolas) Batum, (Boris) Diaw. They have played 150 to 200 games for their country so they are not only good but savvy and experienced in international play.
"We hope to win and learn even more going into the medal rounds." – Rappler.com