USA Men Overpower Argentina 101-81, Advance To Gold Medal Game
The 2008 U.S. Men's Olympic Team (7-0) watched its 30-11 first quarter lead dwindle to six points late in the second period before regaining control in the second half with a balanced scoring attack that saw seven U.S. players finish in double figures to help the USA overpower Argentina (5-2) 101-81 and advance to Sunday's gold medal game Friday night at Wukesong Arena in Beijing, China.
Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets), who made 13-of-13 free throws to set U.S. Olympic game records for made free throws and free throw percentage, led the way with 21 points.
The USA will face reigning world champion Spain (6-1), which survived Lithuania (5-2) 91-86 in Friday's other semifinals game, at 2:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. EDT) in the gold medal contest on Sunday afternoon, while Argentina and Lithuania will fight for the bronze at 12:00 p.m.
'It's always a great honor to play Argentina,' said USA and Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. 'Internationally, over the last decade, they have been as good as anybody in the world. They play with the heart of champions, and we knew we were in for a tough game today.
'Our guys were ready to play and we feel really good to beat Argentina by 20 points. I'm pleased with that. I'm certainly pleased with playing in the gold medal game.'
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) added 15 points and five rebounds; Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets) and Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) each scored 12 points; Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors) tallied an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double; and Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) contributed 10 points and nine rebounds. Additionally, Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks) dished seven assists in 16 minutes.
The win was the USA's fourth consecutive victory against Argentina at the senior level since losing in the 2004 Olympic semifinals, including a win in the 2006 FIBA World Championship bronze medal game and two wins in last summer's 2007 FIBA Americas Championship.
The USA held Argentina, which entered the game leading the tournament in 3-pointers made, to just 6-of-23 from deep for 26.1 percent. On the offensive end, the USA attacked Argentina on the interior to draw 28 fouls and make 18 trips to the free throw line, where it made 27-of-36 tries. The USA also won the rebounding battle 43-32, including 16 offensive boards.
'There was a lot of banging tonight,' said Anthony. 'I'm sore right now. Playing Scola, Oberto and Gutierrez, it was a lot of banging down there. I enjoyed it. I like playing like that. They were calling it a little bit tonight, but it was to our advantage a little bit.'
With the U.S. trailing 4-3, a Kidd jumper ignited an 18-0 run that included seven of Bryant's nine first-period points, and the scoreboard read 21-4 when Paul stole the ball and raced the other way for a fast break bucket. A 3-pointer from Argentina's Pablo Prigioni ended the spurt, but the USA went on to outscore Argentina 9-7 to end the first quarter ahead 30-11.
Argentina and NBA All-Star Manu Ginobili left the court with an ankle injury with 3:39 remaining in the first period and never returned to the game.
In the game's first 10 minutes, the U.S. forced Argentina into seven turnovers and held its opponent to 4-of-14 shooting from the field.
The USA and Argentina traded scores to start the second quarter, and an Anthony 3-pointer 2:21 into the stanza brought the score to 37-18 with 8:07 on the clock. Argentina finally found its stride, and receiving five points from Alfredo Quinteros and four from Juan Gutierrez, reeled off 11 straight points to cut the U.S. lead to 37-29 with 4:24 remaining before halftime.
With the U.S. clinging to a 46-40 advantage and time about out in the first half, Anthony was fouled on a 3-point attempt with just 0.9 left. Making all three of his free throws, Anthony helped send the U.S. to the locker room with the momentum and a 49-40 lead.
The USA struggled against Argentina's zone defense in the second period and shot just 4-of-14 from the field. On the defensive end the USA sent Argentina to the free throw line five times, where it shot 10-of-10 in the second period.
'The guys were really anxious to play this team. I think you saw that by how we came out of the gate,' said Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons). 'I think when Ginobili got hurt, we kind of let up a little bit. They made some shots, went into a zone, played a soft zone there. We didn't penetrate or do anything to get in the gaps. We were just settling. Then we were also fouling, we put them in the bonus with 8:07 left in the second quarter and all they did was hit free throws, they're a great free throw shooting team. That's what got him back in the game.'
Howard opened the second half with four quick points in the paint to put the USA ahead 53-40, and when a James 3-pointer increased the score to 58-44 in the USA favor with 7:33 on the clock, Argentina called a timeout and returned to its zone defense.
This time the USA continued to pound the ball inside, and Howard tallied three more points out of the break to put the USA up 61-44 with 6:55 on the clock.
The U.S. led 78-64 after three quarters, and just 1:14 into the final stanza, James had drained two 3-pointers to put the USA up 84-66 with 8:46 remaining. Argentina never again got closer than 13 points as the USA went on to outscore Argentina 23-17 in the period to win by its smallest margin of the Olympics, 20 points, 101-81.
The USA has played and beaten Spain eight times in Olympic action, including a 102-94 win over an undefeated Spanish team in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Olympics. Most recently the USA topped Spain 119-82 in preliminary play on Aug. 16.
'It doesn't matter. That was pool play,' Wade said. 'I'm sure they could have played better. It's going to be a tough game. They're not in the championship game for no reason. This team won the (world) championship in '06 and now they're back to the championship (game). They're improving. We're going to have to go out there and beat them. Just like Argentina. We're going to have to go out there and knock them off. They're not going to give us anything. They're not going to lay down for us. We know it's going to be a tough game but we're prepared.'
The red, white and blue also beat Spain 122-81 in 1992; 97-53 in 1988; 101-68 in 1984 and 96-65 in the '84 gold medal game; 72-56 in 1972; 81-46 in 1968; and a forfeit win in 1936. Automatically qualified for the 2008 Olympics as the reigning 2006 FIBA World Champion, Spain's best Olympic finish came in 1984 when it took home silver.
Serving as 2008 USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team assistant coaches are Syracuse University and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, New York Knicks head mentor Mike D'Antoni and Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan.