Olympic Men’s Basketball: U.S.A. d. Argentina

USA 105, Argentina 78 | Box Score

Argentina was in the wrong place at the wrong time, delivering the early shot that finally woke the United States from a bit of a slumber.

The result is the end of an era of Argentine international basketball and a spot in the semifinals for the Americans, who eased through the final three quarters on Wednesday for a 105-78 victory. Kevin Durant in ice-cold killer mode, Paul George awesome in a No. 2 role, and a renewed defensive focus were all too much, and a reminder ahead of the medal round of just what was expected from the U.S.

Facing elimination in perhaps the final game of The Golden Generation, Argentina came out showing no fear, bringing the fight to the Americans from the opening buzzer. By the time the U.S. had a chance to regroup with a timeout midway through the quarter, Facundo Campazzo had already dropped six points to help push a chrome-domed Manu Ginobili and company to an early 14-7 lead. George, checking in for Carmelo Anthony, finally broke the non-Durant drought on a tough drive off of an offensive rebound from DeAndre Jordan (starting for DeMarcus Cousins), but Argentina responded with a ludicrous Campazzo bucket and an Andres Nocioni three. George then capped a mini 7-0 run with a steal and dunk that sent Argentina retreating for a timeout of their own. From there, the U.S. went bench-heavy, Cousins looks motivated by his move to the bench (or just a smaller Argentine frontline), and by the end of the frame, the U.S. were up 25-21. The power of just being, you know, the U.S., I guess.

Apologies for the early play-by-play, but this was as fun an opening quarter as there’s been in the tournament. It was what you expect elimination games in an Olympic sport to feel like.

The second quarter did, too, but only through a specific, American lens. People have been waiting for the U.S. to assert themselves over the last few games as they struggled to narrow victories thanks to defensive malaise, and it looked as if the quarterfinal may be more of the same. Instead, the U.S. opened the frame on an 11-0 run that felt closer to 111-0, and by the time Killa Cam(pazzo) broke Argentina’s drought, a double-digit U.S. lead felt massive.

From there, Kyrie Irving apparently had enough, broke Nicolas Laprovittola’s ankles, then drew a second foul on Campazzo, all while the Argetinians continued struggling, through please to the referees, at the offensive end. The napalm flowing, Argentina found themselves stuck 20 midway through the quarter and 16 at the end of the half, 56-40. (That’s a 47-21 run since going down early, by the way.)

Most interesting from a Raptors perspective is that, to that point, DeMar DeRozan was glued to the bench alongside Harrison Barnes, the U.S. tightening their rotation in a more serious game and, at least in the case of DeRozan, passing on a player who’s been emblematic of the defensive issues. Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, continued excelling in a support role, with the U.S. posting a plus-12 in his nine first-half minutes, despite Lowry scoring just three points (and yes, single-game plus-minus is kind of silly, but Lowry’s been his usual plus-minus monster in this format).

Maybe it sucks for DeRozan to sit, but really, can you think of anything more fun than being in Brazil for two weeks as the Jake Voskuhl of the likely gold-medal winner?

As for Irving and Lowry trading off offense-defense roles at the one, well, they seem to have found a pretty good camaraderie around their complementing each other. (Aside: Irving just does some ridiculously fun things on offense, and he even set a couple of tidy screens, including one to free Durant in a double pick-and-roll action.)

The third quarter was more of the same, with some fun U.S. offense keeping a very spirited Argnetine effort at bay. It’s tough to be too critical of Argentina considering the gap in team quality (Argentina was probably the best possible draw for the U.S. from a matchup perspective), and this legendary core fought hard to go out respectably. In a pretty representative sequence, Nocioni blocked Jordan, only for Jordan to respond with this monstrosity immediately after:

There wasn’t a ton to note, specifically, beyond an odd mid-third foul-out for Anthony and some really great defensive energy from Lowry (his ability to shift between roles is a testament to how smart and talented he is, though I’d prefer if he didn’t try to draw charges late in an international game with a 28-point lead). Lowry would finish with five points, six rebounds, two assists, and a plus-18 in 24 minutes, while DeRozan would eventually play eight minutes of garbage time, kicking in six points. The U.S. entered the fourth up 26 and cruised through the fourth for the most part. They’re just so good, and when they’re firing on all cylinders (and giving legitimate two-way effort), it’s very difficult to imagine anyone keeping pace.

Oh, and DeRozan did this in garbage time:

Really, though, the second half felt like a goodbye to The Golden Generation, and while I’d love to wax poetic about how much fun they’ve been to watch over the years, the more effective approach is to just link you to this phenomenal Zach Lowe piece on Ginobili and the gang. In what was surely their final international games, Ginobili scored 14 points with seven dimes, Nocioni dropped 12, former Raptor Carlos Delfino scored three, and Luis Scola, whom I already find myself missing, added a team-high 15 points, a game-high 10 rebounds, and infinite smiles.

The Argentine fans in the crowd were terrific, too, spending the bulk of the fourth quarter singing their veteran stars off the floor, particularly when Ginobili, Nocioni, Delfino, and Scola took the floor for a final stretch late.

From here, the U.S. is headed for a tough semi-final test against Spain on Friday. Spain started the tournament slowly but really picked up over the last few games, and they’ll challenge the newfound defensive integrity of the Americans. The U.S. remain a heavy favorite to take home the gold, of course, but they’ll need to produce efforts closer to this one than their last three outings.

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