Up by just 1 point at halftime, the United States Men’s Basketball team used an early 9 point second half surge from LeBron James and then a spectacular third quarter shooting display from Kevin Durant (who scored 17 of his 28 points in the third quarter, including a couple shots from Ireland) to help crush Argentina 126-97. Team USA outscored the South Americans 42-17 in that third quarter, while Argentina reminded the USA that they are a soccer nation with all the flopping and dirty tactics that they used in today’s final group stage match.
Two nights ago the United States barely escaped a matchup with Lithuania, winning by just a 5 point margin at 99-94. Today’s game appeared to be headed towards a similar ending, that is until the USA turned up the intensity defensively and shot the lights out offensively. In that third quarter Kevin Durant matched the Argentina point total all by himself, while going 5-6 from three-point land in the period. Team USA really won this game on the defensive end of the floor though, as the pressure they brought on that end of the floor visibly frustrated Argentina. Point guard Facundo Campazzo was one of the players most affected by the pressure, as he had a run-in with Chris Paul early in the game and then later in the game got away with punching Carmelo Anthony in the groin as the Knicks star knocked down a three to end the quarter. Argentina forward Luis Scola played limited minutes in this game, but at times you could see that the Suns forward didn’t take too kindly to the physical nature of the game as he landed some cheap shots of his own.
Halves like the second one this evening are what the United States need if they want to win the gold medal and do it in a fashion where the players are still physically healthy enough to go back to their NBA teams within the next month or so. This is a team that relies on a hot hand and some streaky shooting, but today the scoring load was spread as evenly as it’s been all year. Durant led all scorers with his 28 points, while LeBron added 18, Chris Paul 17, Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala 13, and Kobe Bryant 11. Chris Paul led all players with 7 assists, while Iguodala and Kevin Love each had 9 rebounds to lead the team in that category.
Today’s game was very well played by Team USA. It was a game that didn’t really mean too much to the team (except for pride), but it did keep them undefeated as a team and the silly comparisons to the ’92 Dream Team alive. This 2012 team knows what they represent and how much they mean to this country and to the sport of basketball in general, so it was pretty nice to see them crush the #3 team in the world by such a large margin. The chippiness and aggressiveness in today’s game also lend towards a potential rematch in these Olympics becoming even more spirited, and that would be a fantastic showdown to see if Argentina has it in them to play solid basketball and keep their emotions in check long enough to give Team USA a good run. A lot has to happen between now and then, and the only thing that should be on the Americans mind right now is their quarterfinal match against Australia on Wednesday (5:15 EST).