It seemed like everyone in the media responded to the early blowouts from the United States men’s basketball team by wondering when the challenge was going to come.
This challenge was supposed to come against Argentina, who were beaten by Team USA 101-81, in one of the weirdest Olympic games you could ever watch.
Things looked ugly early on, as the Americans went on a 21-4 run to start the game while Manu Ginobili got hurt in the first quarter. It looked like the Argentineans would lose just as bad to the U.S. as Australia did in the quarterfinals.
That was until five minutes into the second quarter, when Kobe Bryant tied to dunk the ball against Andres Nocioni on one leg.
There was only one problem—Nocioni blocked the dunk.
Argentina responded with a three-point shot by Paolo Quinteros. Then the U.S. got into foul trouble, giving up six points on three fouls in a minute and a half.
The U.S. went with a small lineup and put Carmelo Anthony at center, while shooting an uncharacteristic 20 shots from three-point range. It was as close as this version of Team USA has ever been to panicking with Argentina narrowing the deficit to six.
But unlike previous international competitions, the Americans came out of the locker room and didn’t allow Argentina to take the lead. Argentina stayed competitive for half of the third quarter, until Fabricio Oberto picked up his fourth foul and Nocioni picked up a technical.
Carmelo Anthony brought the lead to 67-49, making all four free throws. Argentina flirted with some moments where it looked like they might come back, but the Americans managed to keep their composure while moving on to the gold medal game.
The final score is not the least bit indicative of how poorly the U.S. played, turning the ball over nearly as much as Argentina (15 turnovers to 16).
The important thing for the Americans to take away from the game is not how many poor shots they took or how much they turned the ball over, but that they managed to beat the reigning Olympic Champions.
The victory certainly didn’t look as pretty as it did in previous games, but it’s better than a loss. If this is going to be how Team USA deals with challenges that will most likely arise in the gold medal game or even future international competitions, then I have no complaints.
Yesterday, it was free-throw shooting that kept Team USA ahead. The Americans shot 75 percent from the line, thanks in large part to Anthony’s 13-for-13 foul shooting.
This was a game where shots weren’t falling, the ball-handling was sloppy, and Luis Scola had his way against Chris Bosh and Anthony, scoring an unacceptable 28 points. It was almost exactly what the doctor ordered for Argentina, as Scola said before the game, “We’ve got to play the perfect game and they’ve got to miss more than usual.”
Argentina played about as perfect of a game as you could ask for, especially considering that the team was without Ginobili for almost the entire match. If this is how the U.S. responds to adversity, Coach K should feel very good about the tireless work he has put in to bringing the gold back to America.
At 2:30 A.M. EST, Spain is going to bring the final wave of challenges to Team USA. Jose Calderon will likely sit out the gold-medal game, allowing the future of the Spanish national team, Ricky Rubio to start at point guard in the biggest game of his life.
The U.S. should face a bigger challenge than it did in pool play, when it dominated Spain by 37 points. Don’t be the least bit surprised if the U.S. lead is lower than 15 points in the third quarter.
If Team USA plays in the wee hours of the morning in America the same way it did against Argentina, I’d be very confident in the U.S. fighting through the adversity and winning the ultimate prize of a gold medal.
This article is also posted at Hoops 4 Life. You can find the article here.