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Team USA dispatches Argentina, will play Spain for gold

By Michelle Kaufman, McClatchy Newspapers –

LONDON — The U.S. men’s basketball team had just crushed Argentina 109-83 in the Olympic semifinal Friday night with its high-octane offense, smothering defense, and unmatched athleticism. The NBA superstars made it look so easy, with those scoring sprees and acrobatic dunks, that coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked in the post-game press conference whether he actually has to do any coaching.

(PHOTO: USA’s Lebron James (6) goes in for a monster dunk against Argentina during their semifinals game at the Basketball Arena at the North Greenwich Arena during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, Thursday, August 9, 2012. USA defeated Argentina 109-83 to advance to the Gold Medal game.)

“Absolutely none,’’ he quipped. “I’m out every night with my family, drunk as a skunk. Wait until you see me tonight. I’ll get in at 6 am. You’re all invited to come out with me. We just roll out the damn ball and that’s it. I don’t know how you figured it out.’’

All kidding aside, the U.S. players looked invincible and on a mission. Although there were more questions about the NBA mega-trade involving Dwight Howard than the game, and Kobe Bryant has made tabloid headlines after being spotted with Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice, everyone seemed completely focused on the quest for gold.

Bryant, pumped by the news that Howard is now his Los Angeles Lakers teammate, got things going with 11 first-quarter points. Kevin Durant went on a third-quarter scoring spurt with four three-pointers, and then Carmelo Anthony took over, hitting four threes in the fourth quarter.

But if there was one play that best displayed the U.S. dominance over Argentina, it was LeBron James’ thunderous dunk with 3:46 to go in the third quarter. The teams were meeting for the third time in 17 days, and the aging but spirited Argentines were still hanging around. James, who has been at the heart of every second-half surge during these Olympics, drove into the lane and whizzed past and over Carlos Delfino, slamming the ball in with one hand.

Nobody had to say a word. The dunk spoke volumes. James was on the 2004 team that lost to Argentina in the Athens semifinal, as was Anthony. They weren’t going to let it happen again. The richest and most famous team at these Olympics will be playing for the gold medal on Sunday against Spain, which rallied in the second half to beat Russia, 65-59, in the earlier semifinal. Spain lost to Team USA in the final four years ago at the Beijing Olympics.

“I try to make plays to inspire our team both offensively and defensively, and I hope that was a play that started the rally,’’ James said afterward.

Coming off a triple-double in the quarterfinal, James had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against Argentina. He has scored 254 points for the United States in the Olympics. Only Michael Jordan (256) and David Robinson (280) have scored more.

“LeBron is just doing everything,’’ Krzyzewski said. “The dirty work, the clean work, the leadership work. He turned it up a notch in the second half and we all followed him.’’

Durant was the leading U.S. scorer Friday with 19 points. Anthony, hitting four three-pointers in a span of two minutes, finished with 18 points. Bryant added 13.

“They are better than us, and everyone knows that,’’ said Andres Nocioni, the Argentine forward.

“They are masters, phenomenal, they play over the basket,’’ said Delfino, who scored 15 for Argentina. “When they are fit, they are unbeatable. They are the best in the world to run and shoot.’’

“When they start hitting those three-pointers and grabbing every rebound, it becomes impossible,’’ added Manu Ginobili, Argentina’s leading scorer with 18 points. “We knew we had to play the perfect game. We didn’t, and the result is a fair reflection of what happened out there.’’

Argentina trailed by just four points early in the third quarter, but the U.S. went on a 13-2 run, and before long, was leading by as many as 29 points.

Each time the U.S. has been tested these past two weeks, somebody steps up.

“Everybody always says, ‘What happens if nobody’s making shots?’ but luckily we haven’t had that problem yet,’’ said guard Chris Paul. “We have so many scorers on this team that at some point, guys are going to make shots.’’

Durant said it’s “exciting’’ to see teammates catch fire.

“We watched Melo a few times, LeBron the same way. He catches fire going to the rim, getting dunks and making passes. Kobe last game. It’s fun to watch. It’s really cool to see everybody on the bench get up and cheer for them.’’

It was not so much fun over on the Argentine bench.

It was likely the last game together for Argentina’s “Golden Generation,’’ the collection of veteran players who have been around since Argentina first knocked off the USA at the 2002 world championships and again in Athens. They will play for the bronze medal against Russia.

As for Spain’s chances on Sunday, Ginobili said: “They have to play an almost perfect game, and not let them run. The odds are not with Spain, but if you play your best game and they are not very inspired, you have a shot.’’

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