LONDON – As Carmelo Anthony crumpled on the floor with his hands cupping his groin, mayhem unfolded on the United States' sideline. Tyson Chandler and Deron Williams screamed at Argentina players and threatened to meet them at midcourt. Mike Krzyzewski bellowed into an official's face. All around the Americans' bench, there were fingers wagging toward Argentina, threats hanging heavy in the air. Finally, Anthony staggered to his feet and screamed to Facundo Campazzo for jabbing him between the legs and running away.
"Campazzo got hit in the [groin], too" Argentina's Luis Scola said. "That stuff happens."
The United States had turned a tight game into a blowout, and restraint no longer resonated within the Argentina guard's mind when Anthony unleashed one more 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter. Searching for retribution, Campazzo found Anthony an easy target on the release of his statuesque jump shot.
"Because before, Chris Paul punched me," Campazzo said.
Anthony hit the floor hard, and Campazzo ultimately declared that he would be issuing no post-game apologies to him. After the 126-97 victory over Argentina, Kobe Bryant came over and told Campazzo that hitting 'Melo with a low blow was a bad idea, never to be done. Said Bryant: "He said, 'Yeah, I know. It was my fault. I understand.' "
So Campazzo apologized to Anthony too?
"No," he said. "Chris Paul didn't apologize to me."
Paul does have a history of delivering low blows in his career, and he would've had to reach down even further for the 5-foot-10 Campazzo. Nevertheless, Argentina loves to get the game gritty with the Americans, loves to instigate, slow things down, and that didn't come close to working on Monday night. Team USA wanted to get out of this final pool game with a perfect 5-0 record on the way to the medal round, and did so with a hellacious half of basketball.
Argentina was within 60-59 at halftime and threatening to make the United States go the distance the way that they had needed to beat Lithuania on Saturday. All over again, the Americans' defense had been soft. Manu Ginobili had been genius, and finally the talent on Team USA declared no more. No more close games, no more letting Argentina hang around. Kevin Durant dropped 17 of his 28 points in a 43-point obliteration in the third quarter.
From Anthony to LeBron James to Durant, resistance was futile for Argentina. Argentina had subscribed to a strategy that Lithuania used on Saturday – protecting the paint, daring the Americans to shoot 3-pointers. It turned out that Argentina became one more national team that the Americans left in shambles.
"It is no secret," Ginobili said. "That's the way everybody has been playing them for the last decade. But when they make 20 [3-pointers], you shake their hands and say good game."
Now, the Americans move to the quarterfinal round, where they'll meet Australia on Wednesday. So far, the United States has survived with center Tyson Chandler in constant foul trouble, compensating by moving James into the middle and Anthony to the power forward spot. It's made for hellacious matchups, leaving teams scrambling to find ways to respond.
Scola spoke for everyone else in the medal round when he said: "We cannot beat them in the 100s. We have to get it down into the 90s to have a chance, maybe even the high 80s. Nobody can just score with them."
Nevertheless, Argentina can poke and prod the Americans, and there will be more of that in medal round. The Americans were angry and took extreme pleasure in trying to humiliate Argentina in the fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook dribbled to the rim, leaped into the air for a one-handed dunk over Juan Gutierrez and stood and stared at him until the referee called Westbrook for a technical foul. Westbrook didn't care, nor did the U.S. coaching staff. They were searching for some swagger to bring with them into the medal round, and the Americans left the Olympic basketball arena full of it.
When the game was over, Team USA didn't bother to take its bus back to its hotel in downtown London. The players climbed aboard the high-speed Javelin Train wearing their sweatsuits and sped through the city with Olympic spectators and Londoners.
On the way out, Anthony told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, "It was a cheap shot, but we move on." Onto the medal round now, onto the fast train to the gold medal. After a sluggish performance against Lithuania and a troubling half against Argentina, the Americans found their footing again, found a second wind into the quarterfinals.
Maybe Team USA didn't get little Facundo Campazzo's best shot, but they get did his cheapest one. Paul started it, and the Americans ended it Monday night. As Argentina and the rest of the world keeps finding it, this is no fair fight.
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