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Team USA survives Australia's execution and physicality in slim, 98-88, victory

Paul George was inserted into the starting lineup, but it was Carmelo Anthony who carried Team USA past Australia.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA narrowly passed its toughest test thus far in Group A play, barely edging out unbeaten Australia, who were rumored to be "holding some stuff back" in anticipation of a rematch with the Americans later in the medal round, 98-88.

Far from star struck and headlined by the defensive tenacity of Matthew Dellavedova and rim protection of Andrew Bogut as well as the Olympic men's leading-scorer Patty Mills, the Boomers' strategy to get under Team USA's skin with their physicality and bait their opponent into cheap fouls was successful early as DeAndre Jordan committed an unsportsmanlike foul and both DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, who was assessed a technical foul, were relegated to the bench. All of which contributed to the game being tied, 29-29, at the end of the first quarter.

The offensively sharp Aussies largely out executed the gold medal-favorites in the first half, slipping screens and using back door cuts to subvert the Americans defensive switches while shooting a scorching 63 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Team USA appeared mostly stagnant, disjointed, and frustrated as they routinely settled for contested jump shots early in the shot clock after only one or two passes. The United States, who by and large clung to Carmelo Anthony's superior scoring ability, were fortunate to only be down 54-49 at halftime, marking the first time Team USA had trailed at the half since 2004.

Despite Team USA going on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter and holding their opponent to only 13 points in the frame, the Aussies stayed too close for the Americans comfort, even briefly regaining the lead at 72-70 with over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter after Klay Thompson committed a costly live ball turnover which resulted in a made layup at the other end of the floor. Carmelo Anthony, whose star continued to shine brightest for the Americans in the second half, quickly took back the lead, never to relinquish it again, with a made shot on the next possession.

Since Thompson, reportedly, requested to come off the bench in order to find his rhythm after being uncharacteristically mired in a shooting slump through Team USA's first two pool games, Paul George was inserted into the starting lineup at shooting guard for the red, white, and blue, scoring only five points on six shot attempts as the two-way star battled foul trouble and appeared to struggle to find his fit alongside his fellow starters early. The lineup switch did little to jump start Thompson's sputtering offense and seemed to somewhat disrupt the second unit's chemistry, as none of the bench players managed to score in double figures.

Anthony led the way for the United States with 31 points, followed by Kyrie Irving (19) and Kevin Durant (14).

Australia's traditional lineups were no match for Anthony at stretch-four, as contesting his nine made shots from behind the three-point line proved to be too tough a cover for the lumbering Aron Baynes.

Overall, superior talent, not play, was the narrow difference between which team left Wednesday night's contest unbeaten.

Team USA will return to action on Friday against Serbia (1-2), who lost a heart-breaker, 76-75, to France (2-1) earlier today when Bogdan Bogdanovic misfired on a three-point attempt at the buzzer after San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker had connected on a go-ahead jump shot with under one minute to play. Then again, Serbia probably shouldn't take the loss too hard considering it moved them one-step closer to finishing fourth in Group A and thereby avoiding Team USA's side of the bracket when pool play concludes.