USA vs. Argentina: Key Impact Players to Watch in Olympic Basketball Showdown
There have been scares, close calls and record-setting blowouts. There have been immense expectations and there's been more than enough trash talk.
And now, finally, the U.S. men's basketball team stands just one win away from the opportunity to defend its gold medal at the Olympics. This team just has to go through the team that took it home eight years ago.
The London 2012 journey has been an up-and-down one for Mike Krzyzewski's squad. For the most part, the undefeated Americans have been dominant—take that record-setting 156-73 blowout against Nigeria, for example—but they've also been tested, as was evident by the 99-94 nail-biter in the very next game.
What it all comes down to is the opportunity to play for a medal—preferably gold. All that stands in the way is Argentina, which has had its own fair share of big wins and bad losses this summer.
Argentina's most recent loss came at the hands of the U.S. on August 6. The Americans rode a 28-point performance from Kevin Durant to a 126-97 victory. On Friday, they'll look to repeat it.
Here are the key players who will factor into Friday's semifinals matchup.
The U.S.'s first win over Argentina might have been a lot less convincing without the impact of Durant, who led a third-quarter charge in which the Americans tallied 42 points to extend a one-point lead.
Without him, who knows if they even would have won at all?
The joy of this U.S. team is that, like any good Olympic squad, someone new is capable of stepping up in every game. You'd expect as much from a collection of the greatest players in the NBA, but a collection of elite talents finding some way to play together as a team isn't always a given.
Against Argentina, it was Durant's turn to step up, and he delivered. He tallied 17 of his 28 points in that crucial third quarter, according to the Associated Press.
At the Olympics, momentum is everything. It can be the difference between playing in the gold-medal game or flopping and earning a trip to the bronze game. Durant gave the U.S. the momentum it needed to cruise into the quarterfinals and, eventually, the semifinals. His personal momentum, stemming from his performance in that win, will make him a huge threat to Argentina again.
Since the Olympics began, the Spurs guard has been the glue that has held Argentina together. This team boasts far less NBA experience than the Americans, and it's up to Ginobili to set the tone in each game. With the help of Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino, he must keep his cohorts focused and energized.
Who's your pick to win on Friday?
Unlike the case with the U.S., where someone different seems to step up in every game, Ginobili is the linchpin for Argentina in every game. Never was that more obvious than in Argentina's quarterfinals matchup against Brazil, when he hit two different clutch shots to keep Brazil at bay. The second—late in the fourth quarter, when Argentina led by just three points—solidified the 82-77 win.
In terms of morale, that quarterfinals game was crucial for Argentina. Prior to facing the U.S., Argentina looked like one of the strongest teams in the hunt for a medal, but nothing kills momentum faster than a blowout loss to the favorites.
Argentina had to bounce back from that disappointment quickly and make sure the loss didn't compromise its chances in the quarterfinals, and though it was close against Brazil, Ginobili helped this team do just that.
The U.S. may have a plethora of talent, and it may have the luxury of turning to a different player to save each game, but LeBron is the best player in the world. Any team that has him is unquestionably the automatic favorite.
He doesn't have to lead in points or rebounds or register a triple-double in every game in order for the U.S. to win. He just has to be present. Sometimes, all the Americans need from LeBron is one clutch run down the stretch, and that's good enough for the win.
Against Argentina on August 6, LeBron scored the U.S.'s first seven points of that all-important third quarter, according to the AP. He finished with 18. In that scary close call against Lithuania, he had nine points in the fourth quarter to help the U.S. pull off a five-point victory.
LeBron is like a security blanket for the Americans. If all else fails, they can turn to him, and he'll save the day.
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