Argentina made a game of it—in the first half—but Team USA was able to pull away in the third quarter to finish group play undefeated and head into the elimination stage of the tournament on a high note after a 126-97 win.
The United States walked into the locker room at halftime clinging to a one-point lead after giving up a discouraging 59 points in the first 20 minutes.
All of that changed in the third quarter thanks to some relentless pressure defense and Kevin Durant forgetting how to miss from three-point land. Chris Paul showed yet again that he is the world's best point guard, and Kevin Love continued his impressive campaign at these Olympic Games.
In non-basketball and unsportsmanlike news, Facundo Campazzo literally punched Carmelo Anthony below the belt as Anthony hit a last-second three pointer at the end of the third quarter.
It's possible that these two teams will meet down the road, so we'll have to wait and see if there is any carryover from that incident.
That shouldn't be the story of the game, though, as Team USA further asserted its dominance over the rest of the field by coasting to a win.
ESPN's Chris Palmer noted yet another dominating performance by the United States in the third quarter:
That's a 42-point third quarter for Team USA. No one can compete with that.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) August 6, 2012
ESPN's Marc Stein provided the ridiculous shooting numbers that Kevin Durant posted on Monday in London:
Is 8 of 9 from 3 good? Durant just splashed 30-footer and has five triples in quarter to put Team USA 93-74 up. Run started w/LeBron, tho— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 6, 2012
The official ESPN feed tweeted about Andre Iguodala's thunderous put-back dunk:
As usual, the faux Bill Walton account rounds out our Twitter reaction:
Kevin Durant is a maniacal midnight marauder, robbing the children of Argentina from the chance to taste sweet basketball Gold.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) August 6, 2012
Grades for Key United States Players
Chris Paul: A
Chris Paul single-handedly carried Team USA in a first half when most of the team was pretty quiet. CP3 put up 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half and spent much time on the bench after that.
Everything he does is incredibly smooth. He lulled the Argentina defense to sleep with his mesmerizing crossovers, and then used his impeccable court vision to find his open teammates both in the paint and on the wing.
He has an uncanny ability to pressure his defender right as he passes half court and stay in front of that defender. When he's playing tenacious defense, it makes it so much harder for the opposition to start its offense, as 30 feet from the hoop is not an ideal starting point.
He finished with 17 points and five assists.
LeBron James: A
LeBron James is the best player of this generation, and his skills clearly carry over to international play. He played the role of defensive specialist, offensive juggernaut and passer extraordinaire for Team USA.
Had he not gotten into a bit of foul trouble in the third quarter, we would be looking at a much better statistical performance from James.
Still, though, he has been called the "Swiss Army Knife" of this team, a title that is certainly well-deserved, as he finished with 18 points and five assists.
Grades for Key Argentina Players
Manu Ginobili: B+
Manu Ginobili was the main threat to Team USA's chances at victory in this one. He racked up 16 points in the first 20 minutes and was very efficient from the field against a lackluster American defense.
He knows just how to work the referees in international competition, something that was evident in his seven trips to the free-throw line in the first half.
Ginobili led the way for the Argentinians with 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Andres Nocioni: C+
Andres Nocioni was solid for Argentina, but nothing he could have done would have saved his team from this ugly defeat.
He finished the game with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Deciding Factor: Third-Quarter Surge
Once again, Team USA was mediocre in the first half, but put some distance between the competition in the third quarter.
LeBron James got more involved on offense after halftime, Paul continued to slash and kick and Kevin Durant was his usual sharpshooter self.
The United States led by just one at halftime, but ran roughshod on Argentina and went into the fourth quarter with a 26-point lead.
Whatever Mike Krzyzewski says to these guys during halftime breaks clearly gets through to them, as American second-half dominance has been a trend through most of group play.
Game MVP: Kevin Durant
If we learned one thing in Team USA's win over Argentina, it was that Kevin Durant can shoot from anywhere past the half-court line. He found his groove in the third quarter and tore the Argentinians up from behind the arc.
Coach K and company needed him to pick up the slack when LeBron went to the bench in foul trouble after a couple of questionable calls, and he answered the bell.
Durant put on a shooting display rivaled only by Carmelo Anthony's dead-eye performance against Nigeria, pouring in 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting (8-of-10 from three) in just 22 minutes on the floor.
Team USA finishes atop Group A feeling pretty good about its chances to win the gold medal. Argentina reaffirmed the belief that the United States are not the perfect team in the first half, but Coach K and company squashed the upset bid.
The Americans move on to face Australia in their first game of knockout play.
Argentina did well to reinforce that it is one of the best basketball teams in the world. However, Ginobili and company still don't have the depth and talent necessary to dethrone the Americans.
Brazil awaits Argentina in the next round.
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