After being down 19-9 early in the first quarter of their quarterfinals matchup against Argentina, Team USA used a 27-2 run to take control of the game and eventually dominate on its way to a 105-78 victory. Kevin Durant’s 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting and Paul George’s defense being injected to the game changed the complexion of this game after the initial scare.
Argentina was fueled by Facundo Campazzo’s early scoring burst and they took advantage of USA missing some open looks to start the game. But eventually, the defense fixed itself and the offense was simply too good for Argentina to be able to keep up with USA Basketball. George also had 17 points off the bench and DeMarcus Cousins chipped in 15 as well.
Four different scorers hit double digits for Argentina, led by Luis Scola’s 15. Manu Ginobili, in maybe his final game for Argentina, finished with 14 points and seven assists.
USA moves on to play Spain on Friday, and the winner of that game will play for the gold medal on Sunday.
Here are five things to know from USA’s win over Argentina:
1. The slow start didn’t ultimately hurt Team USA
That 19-9 start by Argentina was certainly worrisome and it’s indicative of the problems that have been there for Team USA despite them now moving its record to 6-0 with group play and the quarterfinals. Some will look at the scoring in that situation and wonder where the firepower is, but it was the defense that continued to be a problem.
Facundo Campazzo is a fine international point guard, but he looked like Isiah Thomas (the Hall of Famer, not the Celtic) cutting through the lane and finding whatever teardrops and layups he needed. Ball movement seemed to confuse the starting unit of Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan. They either gave too much space or played too tight on the drive without help. Running guards around hand-off screens at the top left the U.S. in a mess in terms of defensive organization and that’s why Argentina had so much success early on.
It eventually corrected itself with open shots falling for Team USA and the defensive effort finding better combinations, communication and execution. Most of this was due to the talent finally finding the right touch and angles, and the depth of Team USA being too much for the lack of depth with an older Argentina roster. That clear depth advantage won’t be there with the matchup against Spain on Friday, so these slow starts have to find a way to correct themselves.
Mike Krzyzewski may want to think about starting Paul George to get the defense going early, unless he’s worried another slow start, this time with George in the lineup, will leave them without that game-changer like PG has been off the bench.
2. The Kevin Durant-Paul George combination needs to continue against Spain
When the floodgates opened, it was thanks to the dynamic forward combination of Kevin Durant and Paul George. Durant looked like the same guy who has the third-highest scoring average in NBA history behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. For a few games, his impact has been inconsistent and his scoring touch hasn’t been the regular volcano we’re used to seeing with him. And of course, that leads to snark inundating his narrative with how he’ll fit on a super-team like the Golden State Warriors.
That goes away quickly when Durant is bailing out the U.S. and dropping 3-pointer after 3-pointer on Andres Nocioni and whoever else was unlucky enough to cover him on that particular possession. Durant went 9-of-13 from the field and 7-of-9 from the shorter international 3-point line as he led the offensive attack for his team.
Combine that with the unearthly defense George was providing and it was just too much for Argentina to handle at one time. When Andre Iguodala was on Team USA for Coach K, he’d be asked to simply lock in on defense and make life hell for whoever was in front of him. That’s what George has found a rhythm in that role as the tournament has gone on, and it showed his best effort against Argentina.
There was one particular play in which George didn’t move his feet well, reached in while gambling for a steal and then was forced to foul as he tried to poke the ball away from behind after he was out of good defensive position. He immediately signaled that he fouled his opponent and appeared to know his gambling was inopportune. It was the only real defensive mistake that he made.
The rest of his gambles were well-timed and often abandoned for just good, sound defense in which he dared the opponent to be quicker, stronger and longer than him. They weren’t. That’s where George was able to make his impact. Shut down one person with the ball and their movement and the rest of the defense can find a rhythm. His defense was just as important as Durant’s offense. And both of them together was just unfair.
3. Kyle Lowry and DeMarcus Cousins were a great change of pace for Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan
The defensive problems happened early on and didn’t seem to correct themselves until George found his way on the court and Coach K swapped out Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan for Kyle Lowry and DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not that Irving and Jordan were bad in the game, but they just weren’t sound or comfortable defensively. Putting Lowry into the game allowed better ball pressure to help settle the defense and Cousins’ impact was felt whenever Luis Scola or someone smaller was caught inside trying to defend him.
Eventually, Irving got into his rhythm with the ball and Jordan found a way to be bigger than life above the rim. But Lowry and Cousins were huge assets for them against Argentina. Lowry was solid offensively and tenacious defensively. Even when he was switched onto the bigger Andres Nocioni, USA trusted him to hold his own defending a quick post-up and force the bigger forward into a bad shot in the lane (he air balled a layup).
Cousins did what he does. He was stronger than everybody inside. He had great touch. He found the creases in the offense that allowed guys to find him cutting to the hoop. How you lose a man that big on defense seems incomprehensible, but he made the spacing work and the lack of defensive awareness inside glaring.
It will be hard for both to have that same dominance inside and outside against a better Spain team, but if they play like they did in the quarterfinals, they’ll help Team USA play for gold again.
4. Draymond and Klay still can’t get going
It wasn’t all roses for the U.S. after that poor start to the game. Klay Thompson was still unable to find his touch on his jumper. He was just 2-of-8 in the game and 0-of-6 from deep on his way to four points in nearly 20 minutes. He’s now shooting just 30 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from downtown in his six games of action. He’s even shooting just 71.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Is it the FIBA ball? Is it the lack of minutes and consistent touches? He’s not just missing shots. He’s missing wide-open shots time after time. He missed a few open 3-pointers and was even a little gun shy on a couple of chances in which his teammates told him to let it fly. Is he simply too close? Is the close 3-point line throwing off his normal rhythm? Thompson could maybe take a step or two back and feel more at home, but his shooting may be needed if they can’t blow teams out moving forward.
His teammate Draymond Green wasn’t very good either. He continued to struggle by not making any of his five shots.
The defense was better, but not great. His playmaking seemed a bit erratic. As Doug Collins pointed out on the broadcast, USA needs Green to be in a rhythm moving forward in case his expertise/impact is required against Spain or maybe even in the gold medal game — assuming it gets there.
5. This Argentina team was one for the ages and should be respected as such
This could be the end of the road for this Argentina core. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, and Carlos Delfino have been the core four for this golden era of basketball for their country. During that time, they’ve been the only country to take a gold medal away from USA Basketball. They’ve been one of the best teams in the world consistently. And it might now be over for them.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio featured a 38-year old Ginobili, 36-year old Scola, 36-year old Nocioni, and a 33-year old Delfino. They were already missing their 39-year old point guard Pablo Prigioni. When the Olympics head to Tokyo in 2020, can we expect to see any of these guys? And if you’ve paid attention to the younger groups for Argentina, it doesn’t appear that a wave of top new talent is headed this program’s way.
Argentina was the country you could never take lightly or they’d embarrass you. Not just beat you. Embarrass you. Playing for two decades-plus alongside each other growing up and as they became professional players gave them the understanding that almost seemed telekinetic. Match that with their incredible skill and you had a problem on your hands.
They won the gold in 2004, the bronze in 2008, and just missed out on another medal in 2012 when they lost the bronze medal game. They were the runner-up in the 2002 FIBA World Cup and fourth in 2006. From 1999 to 2015, they never finished lower than third in the FIBA Americas Championship. They dominated South American basketball for about as long as the U.S. has dominated world basketball.
If this is the end for Argentina, we should all thank them for being so good that it forced USA Basketball to recapture the focus and effort it takes to be the best in the world. Otherwise, they may have taken that from us too.
Courtesy: CBS Sports