London • All it took was the push of a button, and Kobe Bryant was back.
Quiet for most of the London Olympics on account of limited playing time and poor shooting, the five-time NBA champion erupted with 20 points in the second half to help the U.S. men’s basketball team bury Australia 119-86 in a quarterfinal game late Wednesday night, setting up a rematch with Argentina in the semifinals.
“I knew which button to push,” teammate Carmelo Anthony said with a smile.
Anthony said he was “on” Bryant at halftime, after Bryant had missed all four shots he’d taken and the Australians had stayed close at the so-called North Greenwich Arena — better known as the O2 Arena, when its name isn’t banned by Olympic advertising restrictions.
After that, Bryant could not be stopped.
Just a few minutes into the third quarter, he threw an alley-oop pass to Tyson Chandler, then made two free throws and back-to-back 3-pointers to regain control after a blazing 11-0 run by the Aussies to open the period cut the lead to three points.
Later, he buried four straight 3-pointers in a 66-second span — which probably would have been enough even without LeBron James’ astounding triple-double of 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists.
“Not surprising,” James said. “There’s a few calls that he felt like he got hit on that he didn’t get, so … he was trying to bounce back from adversity, and he picked it up.”
Bryant said he had been searching for something to “activate the ‘Black Mamba,’ as coach calls it,” referring to his nickname, and that Anthony’s halftime pep talk was just unneeded fuel on an already-burning fire.
“He was just saying, ‘Let me see you,’ ” Bryant reported.“ ‘Coming out in the third quarter, I want to see who we see in the regular season.’ But at that point, I was already revved up,” he said.
By what, exactly?
No-calls, as James suggested? Probably, considering teammate Kevin Durant noted that Bryant “just got so upset” at halftime.
But an overzealous moderator in the post-game press conference stopped Bryant from answering, because the reporter who asked had not followed the desired protocol of waiting to be called upon.
“Pretty good, though,” coach Mike Krzyzewski joked to the rebuked reporter. “You’d be a great offensive rebounder.”
The moderator then allowed Bryant to answer a question about James’ triple-double, and excused him from the table.
Nevertheless, the outburst illustrated that Bryant is still plenty capable of destroying a team, when he gets the chance.
To that point, he had averaged only 9.4 points and 14.6 minutes per game, partly in deference to his age (33) and bounty of talented teammates. Clearly, Krzyzewski was saving Bryant during the group stage so he would be fresh when the games really mattered in the medal rounds, and Bryant’s hot flash allowed the Americans to turn the fourth quarter into another fast-break-and-fire-away demonstration.
“On this team, you really get a lot of easy shots, because you play with so many great players,” Bryant said. “I just found myself in a pretty good rhythm, and found myself with some daylight to shoot the ball, and they went in for me.”
Former Jazz guard Deron Williams had his best game of the tournament with 18 points, and Anthony added 17 points for the Americans, who stretched their lead several times before finally breaking away from the determined Aussies.
The Australians tried to run on the Americans, and did so with some success early behind whippet-quick point guard Patty Mills, who darted and dashed for 26 points in his neon yellow shoes.
But they could not finish at the rim, nor rebound when they missed. They also committed 18 turnovers and made only 13 of 21 free throws — no way to beat the Americans.
“Disappointing result, but we’re going to be proud of ourselves,” said Mills, the former Saint Mary’s star. “We left it all out on the court tonight. … The difference in the game was their transition buckets and 3-pointers. And Kobe got a little sniff, and great teams like that, that’s all they need.”
Storylines USA 119, Australia 86
R Kobe Bryant scores all 20 of his points in the second half of Wednesday’s victory over Australia.
• The Americans will get a rematch in the Friday semifinals with Argentina, which advanced with an 82-77 victory over Brazil.
P Semifinals: USA vs. Argentina Friday, 2 p.m. TV • NBCSN