Team USA downs its longtime hoops rivals from Argentina, moves on to semis

Fourth-Place Medal
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4244/" data-ylk="slk:Kevin Durant">Kevin Durant</a> triple-threats against <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1107889/" data-ylk="slk:Andres Nocioni">Andres Nocioni</a>. (Getty Images)
Kevin Durant triple-threats against Andres Nocioni. (Getty Images)

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It only made sense that Team USA’s potential 2016 rebirth came against very nearly the same Argentinean squad that inspired the Team USA organization’s rebirth from the embarrassment that was American men’s basketball in the early aughts.

America downed an aging Argentina team Wednesday by a 105-78 score, a Team Argentina outfit still partially comprised of the same core that topped Team USA handily during the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Athens Olympics. This time around, however, stalwarts like Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino – NBA veterans, all – could only watch as a younger and fresher Team USA roared past them and into the semifinals of the 2016 Olympics.

Argentina was knocked out of the men’s basketball tourney as a result.

[Related: Spain dominates France in Men’s hoops, moves on to semifinals]

Kevin Durant led Team USA with 27 points, adding seven rebounds and six assists, while nearly doubling-up his teammates’ work from outside the arc: Durant shot 7-of-9 from long range, while his teammates missed 20 of 24 looks from long range. Paul George came off the bench to contribute 17 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks alongside excellent all-around defense in a masterful turn, while DeMarcus Cousins (moved into the reserve pivotman slot for the first time with Team USA) bounded his way toward 15 points.

Argentina was led by Scola’s 15 points, though he needed 16 shots to get there, while turning the ball over five times. Team USA was more than aware of Scola’s tendency to pump fake before shooting, and Scola was no match for Cousins’ length and bulk on the other end of the court. Ginobili was second on the squad with 14 points, adding seven assists, while former Bull, King and 76ers forward Nocioni added 12 points.

Nocioni introduced himself on the international basketball stage some 17 years ago with this throwdown over Kevin Garnett in the Tournament of the Americas qualifier tourney …

… but that seems ever so long ago.

For a spell, it should be noted, Argentina seemed up to its old tricks.

The U.S. missed 10 of its first 12 shots in the contest, falling prey to offensive stagnation and relying too much on either the two-man or obvious drive-and-kick game on that end. Argentina moved its way toward a 19-9 lead with four minutes to go in the first quarter, prior to Team USA roaring its way to a 27-2 run on the back of George and Cousins’ move from the bench and to the court, and the continued brilliance of Durant. KD finished the half with 18 points.

Argentina made its move to take a 25-point American lead down to 16 (or fewer, had it connected on its last shot of the second quarter) at the half, but the thin Team Argentina bench could not compete with the series of younger NBA All-Stars who reliably peeled themselves off of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bench.

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Crisp ball movement and attention to detail in defending the half court led to a sustained attack for Team USA, even though the outside shots (Klay Thompson is back to his old ways as an Olympian, missing all six of his 3-point attempts against Argentina) weren’t falling. The squad crashed the offensive glass to the tune of 17 caroms, while George, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry’s defensive work off the bench helped make up for starting point man Kyrie Irving’s continued issues on that end.

By the time Team USA built the lead back up – 28 points, at one turn – the writing was on the wall. The note that began for Argentina in 2002 ended up destroying the team’s chances at medaling some 14 years later, and Team USA recognized as much by applauding as Ginobili left the court deep into the fourth quarter to a rapturous ovation, in what will likely be his last Olympic game.

For Team USA, the victory ensures a semifinal with Spain on Friday. More business to carry out, with lessons hopefully learned.

For Argentina? A perfect sendoff for one of the great teams – great dynasties – in international basketball history.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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