LONDON — Argentina has to accept at least some responsibility for what happened Monday night against the U.S. men’s basketball team at the Olympic Basketball Arena. Team USA used a blinding scoring blitz and some defensive hustle to turn an entertaining one-point game at halftime into a boring blowout in about eight minutes.
Five consecutive three-pointers by Kevin Durant in the third quarter did the most damage as the U.S. players ran away with a 126-97 victory in preliminary round play that assured them the top spot in their group.
“They got more people, more talent,” said Argentina’s Luis Scola, who plays for the Houston Rockets. “If they play this way [throughout the Olympic tournament], it’s going to be very difficult.”
Durant scored 28 points overall, including 8 of 10 from behind the three-point arc.
“We have so many great passers,” Durant said. “The ball kind of like finds me.”
The awesome explosion of precision basketball that ended Argentina’s hopes really had its roots in the South American squad’s own success a decade ago.
Argentina almost single-handedly spurred a revamping of the entire U.S. national team program when it handed the United States humiliating defeats in international play in 2002 and 2004. The result is this defending Olympic champion U.S. team, which hasn’t lost a game in two straight Olympic tournaments and can break open a close contest in a matter of minutes.
With its fifth straight victory in the Olympic tournament, Team USA earned a date with Australia, which has two losses in five games, in the quarterfinal round Wednesday.
“What we accomplished in those years is huge and we’re very proud about it,” said Manu Ginobili, who led Argentina with 16 points and played on the nation’s gold-medal winning team in 2004. “But if it wasn’t us, it would have been somebody else. We’re not that arrogant to think that all that happened to the U.S. team is due to us. I just don’t believe it.”
Ginobili, the San Antonio Spurs star, surely would prefer not to believe it. Yet, it was the embarrassment of losing in the semifinals of the Olympic tournament to Argentina in Athens in 2004 that sent USA Basketball’s Jerry Colangelo on a mission to restore pride and interest in Olympic basketball.
And that pride showed up in earnest in the second half Monday.
After leading Argentina to a brief lead in the second quarter and just a 60-59 deficit at halftime, Ginobili went cold and Argentina got outscored 42-17 in the third quarter.
The turnaround started with a trio of consecutive baskets by LeBron James, who finished with 18 points, and continued with Durant’s barrage.
Argentina, which hit 65 percent of its shots in the first half, helped the onslaught along as it committed five turnovers.
“They always have the potential to do something like that,” Ginobili said. “We ran out of ideas offensively. . . . We couldn’t find a way to the rim, and then they got inspired offensively.”
Team USA even got miffed at what it believed was a cheapshot from Facundo Campazzo on Carmelo Anthony as he launched a three-point shot near the end of the half.
Campazzo said he apologized to Kobe Bryant, who addressed the matter with him after, but maintained that Chris Paul had punched him.
“That was uncalled for, and I let him know it,” Bryant said.
At that point, the United States didn’t need any more motivation. The United States got 13 points each from Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala. Ginobili did not score in the second. Team USA held a major edge in rebounding, 47-33, and forced turnovers, 16 to 8.
Most critically, the U.S. men hit 20 of 39 from behind the three-point arc.
The furious close wiped away lingering concerns about the team’s five-point victory over Lithuania two days ago.
“We kinda wanted to send a little message,” Bryant said. “It’s been two games in a row that’s close. We talked about being more aggressive.”
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