Team USA won't live and die in the Olympic men's basketball tournament by the 3-pointer, because it probably won't die. The gold-medal game on Sunday against Spain will not be a cakewalk, Spain is a deserving medal-round contender, but all indications are that Team USA is going to roll to the gold on a wave of 3-point bombs. Living all the way to the top of that medal stand, only dying for a quarter or two at a time before the shots start falling.
It's what the defense is giving it, those bombs, and also what Team USA is finding consistently as it leaks out in transition after securing defensive rebounds. The squad downed Argentina in a surprisingly one-sided affair on Friday, raining threes in a 62-43 second half run after Team USA went into halftime with a seven-point lead. After struggling while missing 12 of 17 threes in that first half, all those open misses turned to open makes in a 13-25 second half from behind the arc. Kevin Durant led the charge and the point ledger by making half his looks from long range on his way to 19 total points.
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As you'd guess, Durant was just part of a strong all-around effort, with Kobe Bryant (13 points on the day he learned he'll get to team up with the best center in the NBA for the second time in his career) coming out early to try and put the fear of the Kobester in Argentina, and LeBron James working his all-around magic on both ends. In fact, with a few more made threes off his passes in the first half (or if Carmelo Anthony hadn't blown a dunk in the third quarter) and three more rebounds, LeBron James would have had his second triple double of the week. The league and Finals MVP scored 18 points, with seven boards and seven assists. His lone block was a stunning chase down of a Carlos Delfino lay-in during the first quarter.
Delfino was one of five former, current, or future NBA players on the Argentine team; an international classic if we ever saw one, and 2004 gold-medal winner. The team was paced by Manu Ginobili, who managed 18 points in the face of tough (if ineffective, Manu was just rolling) defense from Kobe Bryant. Ginobili was brilliant in the last meeting between this team in group play, but he couldn't sustain his ability to find cutters as Team USA did well to clog the lane. Argentina still got its 21 assists on 31 field goals, but the squad's spacing and legendary backdoor work just wasn't in the cards as Team USA pulled away in the second half.
Argentina's 44 percent shooting wasn't terrible, but it was exacerbated by an ineffective batch of glass work. Just eight offensive rebounds for Argentina, as Team USA raced out in transition on the backs of its 46-29 rebounding advantage. Raw rebound totals are rarely the best indicator for overall success, but it sure helped here — as point guards like Chris Paul (seven rebounds) and Deron Williams (six) tied for first and second behind James for the team lead in that area.
There will, and should be hand-wringing about Team USA's (over?) reliance on the 3-pointer, a shot that can come and go for any number of sound shooters — and even all at once for a team full of them.
Because this team is so quick and full of ball-handlers that can break slower defenses down, coach Mike Krzyzewski's rotations have consistently seen opponents packing the lane and daring Team USA to beat them from the outside. So far, it's worked. Coach K can only hope, as his men ready themselves for one last game, that a team-wide aberration won't set it.
Because, at the risk of sounding too confident, that's what it will take for even a great team like Spain to pull off the upset. The bombs from long range will have to spin out, consistently, for Team USA's last opponent to even have a chance. And even beyond that, so much will have to go right.
Famous last words, I know. I don't get the feeling Team USA cares. This team is confident, brilliant in all angles, and scary.
And one game away from being able to rank themselves amongst the greatest of all time.
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