Team USA Overcomes Typical Sluggish Start to Defeat Argentina, 105-78Argentina jumped out to a 19-9 first quarter lead over Team USA and it looked like the 2004 Olympics all over again, but Team USA rallied and won going away, 105-78, to advance to a semifinal matchup against Spain on Friday. Team USA cut Argentina's lead to 25-21 by the end of the first quarter and then employed suffocating defense to build a 25 point second quarter lead before Argentina cut the margin to 56-40 at halftime. Team USA's lead hovered around 20 points for most of the third quarter before they made a late push to go up 87-61 heading into the final 10 minutes. Argentina did not get closer than 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski tweaked his starting lineup again, inserting DeAndre Jordan at center in place of DeMarcus Cousins. The other four starters were Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving. Doug Collins noted that part of the reasoning behind the change at center is that neither Cousins nor Irving defend the screen/roll very well, so having them on the court together "brings out the worst in both players." Collins also said that in order to win Team USA's top two priorities against Argentina would be to control the boards and to defend the three point line. Despite the shaky start, Team USA finished well in both departments, winning the rebound battle 54-43 and holding Argentina to 8-32 (.250) three point shooting.
Durant scored a game-high 27 points on 9-13 field goal shooting and he also had seven rebounds and six assists. George added 17 points on 8-14 field goal shooting plus a team-high eight rebounds. George easily had the best plus/minus number (28, seven better than Durant). Cousins scored 15 points in less than 14 minutes. Irving added 11 points. Anthony, who has been touted by some as supposedly the greatest U.S. Olympic basketball player, scored seven points on just 3-10 field goal shooting. Yes, Anthony has played on two gold medal-winning teams but in Team USA's 118-107 win in the 2008 gold medal game versus Spain Team USA was outscored 49-38 when Anthony was on the court, which explains why Coach Krzyzewski benched him for the final 8:13 with the outcome up for grabs. In Team USA's 107-100 victory in the 2012 gold medal game versus Spain, Anthony scored eight points on 3-9 field goal shooting in 21 minutes and he was again on the bench down the stretch while Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant made the key plays. If Team USA secures two more victories and Anthony wins his third gold medal he likely will once again be on the bench during crunch time of those contests while Durant, George, Irving or someone else does the heavy lifting.
Luis Scola led Argentina with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Manu Ginobili (14 points, seven assists), Facundo Campazzo (13 points, game-high nine assists) and Andres Nocioni (12 points, five rebounds) also scored in double figures. Argentina started three players with NBA experience (Scola, Ginobili and Nocioni) alongside point guard Campazzo and forward Patricio Garino. However, Ginobili is 39 years old while Scola and Nocioni are each 36 years old. Carlos Delfino, who once was a key cog in Argentina's attack, is still on the squad but at 33 years of age and dogged by injuries he is no longer the player he used to be.
Durant got Team USA off to a good start by drawing a foul and making two free throws but Campazzo abused Team USA's defense with three nifty drives to help Argentina go up 10-5. Argentina shot 7-9 from the field to start the game, while Team USA opened 3-13 before making four straight shots. Durant single-handedly kept Team USA in the game, scoring 13 first quarter points as Team USA slowly woke up defensively, enabling Team USA to turn a 19-9 deficit into a 25-21 advantage by the end of the quarter.
In the second quarter, Coach Krzyzewski deployed a more defensive-minded squad, inserting Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry into the lineup alongside Cousins and Durant. Cousins dominated the smaller Argentina team in the paint, while George and Butler wreaked havoc on the perimeter and Team USA extended the lead to 36-21. The score was 36-24 when Anthony returned to action. With George smothering Campazzo, Team USA was up 47-27 at the 4:10 mark when Anthony went back to the bench after committing his third foul. Anthony had scored two points on 1-5 field goal shooting.
Team USA took a 56-31 lead when Durant punctuated a beautiful crossover move with a jumper but while Team USA's bench players danced and the players on the court celebrated, Argentina hustled down court and Ginobili passed to Campazzo for a layup. Argentina closed the half on a 9-0 run in the last 1:52. Careless Team USA plays like that did not change the outcome of this game mainly because Argentina is an older team that lacks the necessary size and depth to compete with Team USA for a full 40 minutes but Eddie Johnson recently said something great on NBA Radio: "If you mess with the game, the game will mess with you." Team USA does not have the proper respect for the game and for the opposition. They might get away with it and win this tournament anyway but if they fall behind by 10 to Spain it will not be quite so easy to come back--and if they give up nine points to Spain in less than two minutes they will be flirting with disaster. Durant scored 18 points on 6-9 field goal shooting in the first half and Team USA's bench outscored Argentina's bench 28-7.
Team USA led 76-55 when Anthony sat out for good at the 4:21 mark of the third quarter after collecting his fourth person foul. Coach Krzyzewski went with the defensive-minded lineup that blew the game open in the second quarter and Team USA closed out the quarter with a mini 11-6 run to extend the margin to 87-61.
It was apparent by this point that Argentina had given all that they had to give--they are an older, undersized team that lacks depth and it just was not conceivable that they could outscore Team USA by 26 points in 10 minutes. Just looking at the final score, Team USA's victory seems impressive but Argentina's ability to effortlessly build a 10 point first quarter lead against Team USA's starters is a warning sign that Team USA should not ignore; if Argentina had the depth and youth of a decade ago they could have pushed Team USA throughout this contest and very possibly pulled off the upset.
Considering the strength of the opposition, this was Team USA's best overall performance so far in the Rio Olympics but we still saw too much sloppiness, particularly from the starting lineup in the early going. Spain has better size and depth than Argentina. If Team USA starts sluggishly versus Spain in Friday's semifinal game, it will not be so simple to wear Spain down. Team USA's starters must play better defense and Team USA's offense should not be so dependent on Durant alone, because if Team USA utilized the ball and player movement that other teams showcase against them then Team USA could get scoring contributions from a variety of players.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:55 PM