Philadelphia 76ers fans like myself were used to seeing Andre Iguodala and company dominate the third quarter last season. By coming right out of the gate after halftime, the Sixers locked up several of the early wins they needed to survive their late season struggles. For Team USA at the Olympics, it needed a similar burst after halftime against Argentina on Aug. 6 to quell their newfound doubters.
After barely surviving Lithuania on Aug. 4, America was on track for another slugfest with equally tough Argentina. Yet after taking a 60-59 lead into the locker room, the U.S. quickly turned it into a 126-97 blowout that was more like the Team USA everyone is used to. As such, Iguodala was able to play more minutes when the game was out of reach, which is always a good sign.
Iguodala only played three minutes against Lithuania, which showed how the game was so tight that America couldn't afford to use its bench players. It looked like the same old story in the first half with Argentina, which would have actually put these Olympics in doubt. But after a third quarter where the USA outscored the Argentines by 42-17, any actual suspense drained away again.
Once the Americans could cruise again, Iguodala came on to help run things up. In fact, he put together his best game of the Olympics so far, running up 13 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes. Still, the big stars of the night were Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul, with Durant scoring 17 of his 28 points in the third quarter alone.
The rough game with Lithuania could have either been a wake-up call or a sign of worse things to come in these Olympics. But Team USA clearly turned it into a wake-up call, and now it is right back to being the heavy favorites again.
After facing highly ranked Lithuania and Argentina, America has a much easier quarterfinal opponent on paper in Australia on Aug. 8. However, the Aussies did beat undefeated Russia at the buzzer on Aug. 6 - although that does make a gold medal game with the Russians a bit less intimidating for the Americans. Before then, Team USA could have a rematch with Argentina in the semifinals, which also looks less troubling now.
America had to sweat its Olympic future out for two days and about a half, yet that appears to be over for the moment. Now that it remembers what it's like to blow out opponents and let Iguodala come in to help run out the clock, it will hopefully be harder to forget again. But as long as Team USA can be this hot to end a game, it almost doesn't matter what it does to start one.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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