U.S. forward LeBron James questions a call during the first half of the game… (Charles Krupa / Associated…)
Below are five things to take from Team USA's 126-97 victory over Argentina in the final preliminary game on Monday. Team USA faces Australia on Wednesday in a quarterfinal.
1. Team USA put the game away with a strong second half. For the second consecutive game, Team USA began with an uninspiring performance. Argentinian guard Manu Ginobili needed only five field-goal attempts to score 16 points in the first half. Team USA had only a 60-59 halftime lead despite Argentina power forward Luis Scola sitting out of the second quarter and resting starting point guard Pablo Prigioni entirely. Team USA's defensive execution looked so lethargic that guard Chris Paul reportedly lit into his teammates at halftime.
It appears Team USA received the message.
Kevin Durant scored17 of his 28 points in the third quarter, including a eight-of-10 shooting clip from three-point range. LeBron James scored nine quick third-quarter points. And Team USA's defense held Ginobili scoreless. It was clear Team USA would walk off the court in the same fashion it has always done, with a double-digit victory with questions on whether anything can take down its talent and depth.
2. The game became chippy. Even with the outcome no longer in question, the game still stayed entertaining partly because the two teams couldn't stand each other. The animosity simmered just before the end of the third quarter. Facundo Campazzo punched Carmelo Anthony in the groin after he shot a three-pointer. That prompted Team USA center Tyson Chandler to approach Argentina's bench. Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski angrily confronted Scola. And Kobe Bryant talked with Campazzo at mid-court once the game ended. No matter how physical or embarrassing the U.S. made Argentina feel, there's absolutely no justification for the cheap shot.
3. Russell Westbrook threw down the best dunk of the night. With emotions running high, Westbrook borrowed out of Blake Griffin's playbook and delivered a powerful one-handed dunk over Juan Gutierrez with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter. Westbrook earned a technical foul for taunting. But the penalty was well worth the highlight reel, particuarly since it came within minutes of Argentina's cheap shot.
4. Kobe Bryant has continued to struggle. No one expected Bryant to play the same way he does with the Lakers. It's actually a good thing he willingly takes a backseat to James and Anthony. But Bryant's 11 points on three-of-10 shooting and two turnovers reflects his tournament-long struggle in establishing his niche. Bryant forced jumpers. Even though he went four of four from the free-throw line, Bryant forced the issue by committing two offensive fouls.
5. Paul kept Team USA in the game for the first half. All the credit goes to James' aggressiveness and Durant's ability to hit deep three-pointers. But Team USA wouldn't have been in the game if not for Paul's first-half performance. While everyone else looked out of rhythm, Paul kept his aggressivness level up by scoring 14 points before halftime.
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