For one half of basketball, it appeared as if Japan would hang with the United States and force them to play in their most competitive game in over a decade.
For the first 18 minutes and 48 seconds, Japan played the United States within two points, trailing just 48-46. But, in the next 72 seconds, the United States would go on an 8-0 run to close the second quarter.
In the second half, that run would turn into more, much more. With just under five minutes left in the third quarter, the U.S. lead was up to 17. By the end of that period, the U.S. led by 22.
In the final 21 minutes and 12 seconds, of the game, the U.S. outscored Japan 62-18. A two-point lead grew into a 46-point win. And once again the United States would march on to the semifinals, undefeated, but not unharmed.
Sue Bird went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. Details on her injury were not immediately available, but she did not return to the game.
Bird told The Associated Press after the game that she felt a “pop.”
“Nothing really happened,” Bird said of the play. “I just felt the pop and anytime you feel that, it’s a little alarming. So going just to have to get it evaluated afterwards and see what’s up. Truth I really have nothing to tell you. It happened so fast like. Is it possible I stepped on her shoe or she stepped on mine? I don’t really remember, but yeah it felt funny.”
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said that they would evaluate the injury.
“I really don’t know. I said we’ll know” on Wednesday, Auriemma said. “There’s no way of knowing anything right now. I’m sure Sue’s bummed out about it as you can imagine. Let’s just wait and see.”
Diana Taurasi may be the team’s best player, but Bird is the team’s leader, their heartbeat. Her absence will be felt if she cannot play going forward.
With Bird watching on, Taurasi continued her sprint towards the record for most threes in a single Olympic tournament. She already owns the record for most threes all-time by a woman in the Olympics and the most threes in a single game by a player wearing the stars and stripes. With five more today, she sits just one triple from tying the record, two from owning yet another.
Taurasi finished with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, tied with Maya Moore for the game-high. Moore added three rebounds, three assists and a steal to her line.
The U.S. finished with seven players in double digits, tying an Olympic record for the second time in the Rio tournament. No team has ever had eight players score 10 or more points in a game. The lone player not to score for the U.S. was Bird.
Depth again proved to be the difference in the game. The U.S. bench combined for 62 points, just two shy of the total for the entire Japanese squad.
Japan, a pesky young team without a player over 28 years old, kept it close for a half, and against the United States that’s an accomplishment.
They were paced by Ramu Tokashiki’s 14 points, three rebounds and four assists. Mika Kurihara and Sanae Motokawa each had 12.
With their 47th straight Olympic win, the U.S. continues on to the semis where they will play France, who has never beaten the U.S. in Olympic play.