U.S. guard Kobe Bryant tries to drive past Argentina guard Carlos Delfino… (Charles Krupa / Associated…)
Below are five things to take from Team USA's 109-83 win over Argentina on Friday. Team USA will face Spain in the gold-medal game at 7 a.m. Pacific time Sunday.
1. Kobe Bryant had a sizzling start. Throw in Bryant recently finding his shooting stroke. Mix in his giddiness over the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard. And what do you have? Oh, nothing more than Bryant having a sizzling start against Argentina and showing off his lively legs. He scored 13 points on five-of-10 shooting. Bryant started the first possession nailing an open three-pointer. And in a play that turned back to the clock to his youthful days, Bryant drove in for a reverse dunk nearly a minute later.
Bryant also played sharp defense. He made Manu Ginobili work for his points on seven-of-15 shooting. He helped Team USA stay balanced and disciplined on rotations. Bryant even rotated to the power forward spot at times to ensure Team USA taps into its versatility.
No one ever expected Bryant to lead Team USA in scoring. That job description belongs to Kevin Durant (19 points on seven-of-14 shooting), LeBron James (18 points on eight-of-12 shooting) and Carmelo Anthony (18 points on seven-of-14 shooting). But it's a huge lift if Bryant can bring the same kind of edge, whether it's hitting outside shots, making stops or driving to the basket. It's expected that the Team USA-Spain gold-medal game will be competitive. It's critical Bryant has enough rhythm to deliver, especially late in the game, if need be.
2. LeBron James took over once again. He had the highlight of the game when he drove off Kevin Love's pick at the top of the key en route to a thunderous one-handed dunk in the third quarter. James' floor-general presence played a large part in Team USA breaking the game open in the third quarter by either setting up Durant on two three-pointers or by grabbing three offensive rebounds.
It's become routine seeing it. But it's proven endlessly fun to watch. On a team full of superstars, James has established his niche by chipping in with everything. But he's doing so in a way that benefits everyone on the team.
3. Kevin Durant had a hot third quarter. During these Games, Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski and teammates alike stressed to Durant to stay selfish and look for his own shot. It's a hard balance to strike considering the depth Team USA boasts. But for the second consecutive game, Durant established his assertivness when Team USA needed to make a third-quarter run to break open the game. Against Argentina, Durant nailed four of his five three-pointers by ensuring good court spacing and ball movement.
James and Anthony connected with Durant on three catch-and-shoot opportunities. Such sequences entailed Durant moving off the ball and pulling up in good form as soon as he caught the pass. He also made sure he stood behind the perimeter after James pulled down an offensive board and kicked it out to Anthony. Instincitvely, he then threw a swing pass to Durant for the open trey. Credit Team USA for looking to him. Credit Durant for further cementing a shoot-first mind-set.
4. Anthony made shots in the fourth quarter. Not that it mattered since Team USA already cemented the outcome. But it was a sight to see Anthony's four consecutive three-pointers. Soon enough, the entire team embraced him in the same way when he scored an Olympic record 37 points with 10 three-pointers last week against Nigeria.
Team USA stll would've won even if Anthony went scoreless. But with Spain boasting a huge size advantage with the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, Team USA needs all its scorers at their sharpest so it can hit perimeter shots.
5. Thankfully, this game didn't get out of hand. The way things ended the last time around, it would've been understandable if Anthony wore a cup. On Monday, Facundo Campazzo punched Anthony in the groin during a three-point shot and refused to apologize afterward. Meanwhile, Campazzo accussed Chris Paul of playing dirty. Even if the game had stayed competitive, fortunately cooler heads prevailed in the semifinal match.
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