Jimmy Butler intercepted a pass, scurried up court and made a layup as a foul wiped him out. Paul George and Kyle Lowry sprinted to help him up. Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan interlocked arms as they clapped from the bench area, preventing each other from encroaching onto the court.
This was the Team USA that Americans hoped to see.
Exceptional athleticism. Elite talents lifting each other. Enthusiastic in-game celebrations.
And a blowout win.
After falling behind double digits in a hurry, Team USA went on a 27-2 run – punctuated by Butler’s three-point play – to beat Argentina 105-78 in a quarterfinal Wednesday.
The U.S. now carries a 23-game Olympic winning streak into a semifinal against Spain on Friday, but reaching 24 could be challenging. Spain crushed France earlier in the day, continuing a run of excelling against the field’s best competition. There’s a reason Team USA reportedly considers Spain, which won silver medals in 2008 and 2012, its top threat.
At least the Americans enter their Spain matchup coming off their most complete performance in Rio.
Three straight close wins (over Australia, Serbia and France) to close group play raised serious questions. Falling behind 19-9 to Argentina today brought the panic full bore. A loss today would’ve meant the first medal-less Olympics for the U.S. men’s basketball team in 18 appearances.
But Kevin Durant (27 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting)led the comeback, and Paul George (17 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks) and DeMarcus Cousins (15 points) flanked him with more than enough support.
These types of wins have become the norm against Argentina, the last team to beat the U.S. in the Olympics. After that 2004 semifinal upset, Team USA has beaten Argentina by 20, 29, 26 and now 27. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni have just aged out of contention after winning gold medals 12 years ago. The 25-year-old Facundo Campazzo (13 points, nine assists and four steals) provided a spark, but he couldn’t do nearly enough – except continue to agitate Team USA. Late in the game, Argentinian fans sent off their Golden Generation with raucous cheering and a standing ovation.
The Americans have no time for nostalgia now. Spain looms, and then Team USA will play for a medal Sunday. Australia will meet the winner of Croatia-Serbia – streaming here at 9:15 p.m. Eastern tonight – in the other semifinal.
The U.S. easily dispatched Argentina, but the challenge only grows greater from here.