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Glad you could join me for what will likely be the second-last game for Team USA in their run to the gold medal here in London. We had a scare up here at our family cottage when the TV went out completely, but the good folks at Bell Canada got everything under control and we are just about set to go.
* I didn’t get my hopes up for my no-commentators channel to come back, and wasn’t pleasantly surprised. First thing I see when we get the game on is Craig Sager, again wearing normal clothes and immediately losing my interest for that reason.
* Somehow, in the last few days the narrative has changed from Spain to Argentina being the biggest threat to Team USA. Maybe it’s Spain struggling to get by France and Russia, or maybe it’s the issues USA has historically had with the Argentines.
* I expect to see more reliance on LeBron in the post from the Americans both today and in the final (assuming they get there). They’ll need more offensive consistency to be comfortable and that’s the way to get it.
* Kobe has definitely kept his form from the second half against Australia, sinking a three and getting to the hoop for a reverse dunk. If he’s on his game for the duration today it could be a long one for Argentina. He shows the hustle game too, diving on the floor to create a turnover. Followed by yet another three. Can you tell I had to keep coming back to this paragraph as Kobe kept doing good things? See, I don’t hate him. I just hate his NBA team.
* LeBron sinks a long jumper and then Durant gets in the passing lane for a steal and a dunk. USA has started quickly for once and it’s 15-4 before Argentina even knows what’s going on.
* A graphic on screen shows me that six different USA players have scored 10 or more points in a quarter so far in this tournament…and LeBron isn’t one of them. Pretty remarkable, and it shows how high quality this team is when the world’s best player doesn’t even have to score often for them to win. And you can see why with plays like the chase-down block he just pulled, in his typical style where you can see it coming for about five seconds before he actually does it.
* As quickly as it came, the lead has evaporated for the US. They just can’t shake this ridiculous habit of launching every conceivable three when they get up a few points. They’ve avoided it hurting them so far but I can’t help but think it’s going to come back to bite them at some point. It’s just 19-15 now after a strong Argentina run.
* The quarter ends 24-19 for the US, leaving me again feeling like they could have done so much better. That seems to be a trend for a lot of first halves. They’re shooting 45% apparently, although it sure doesn’t feel like it.
* I’ve given Kobe shit for his shot selection and overall play, but at least he’s a shooting guard whose job it is to shoot. Deron Williams, though, is beyond on my nerves at this point. I don’t know how the coaches continue to allow him to get away with shooting these pull-up threes and fadeaways. It’s ridiculous. He’s killing the offense when he should be doing the opposite; it’s beyond me how he’s still logging so many minutes.
* Paul and LeBron are working really well together now, connecting on a couple nice passes from CP3 for some easy finishes for James. LeBron may have seen the graphic about six other guys getting double figures in a quarter; he bullies his way to the hoop for a bucket and one and already has several baskets in the second quarter to help the US extend the lead back up to 37-27.
* The defense is stepping up, but Argentina is beating it by hitting long threes with some regularity. They can’t stop Team USA on the other end, though, and the lead remains in the low double figures as the half winds down.
* Ginobili hits an off-balance three at the buzzer to end the half at just 47-40 for the US. Yet another underwhelming half where the opportunity was certainly there for them to all but put the game away had they stayed focused. They’re over 50% shooting but under 30% from distance. They need to get those numbers a little closer together and put up a better second half to send a message to Spain that this final won’t be the close contest everyone says it will.
* Manu isn’t going to go away quietly, following up his half-ending three with another to start the third. Then he gets a fast break for a basket and one, it’s a six point game now pending the free throw.
* Durant nails a couple straight long bombs to get the lead back up to 13. LeBron is making great basketball plays all over the court; hockey assists that won’t show up on a box score but leave guys wide open on a rotation, offensive rebounds in traffic, things like that. Plays like those go unappreciated by many but are vital in chippy games like this one.
* James follows that up with a layup and then a vicious dunk in the lane with a foul. He’s got 16 points, five assists and five boards after his triple-double the other night (which our talking heads inform me was not only the first of this tournament but the first in Team USA history).
* Durant is absolutely unstoppable in third quarters. He has another four triples for 12 points in the period and he and LeBron are triggering another lightning-fast US run to get the lead up to 19. He finally misses one but James gets up for the board to tip it in. The effort is really paying off for Team USA.
* LeBron and Durant combine for 19 in the third as the US stretches the lead to 74-57 heading into the final quarter. These two have done a great job taking control when the team needs them to stretch leads.
* The hard fouls are starting to pick up from Argentina as the gap is continuing to widen even with the backups out there. Carmelo hits another triple and the lead is up to 25, we have to hope we can avoid the same kind of nastiness we saw in the last matchup of these two.
* Let’s get Unibrow time going a little earlier today. Carmelo has four consecutive triples yet again and this one is over, it’s a 93-64 lead for the US. Anthony’s ability as a streak shooter is just insane, and you have to imagine he’s charged up from the cheap shot he took the last time these teams met. He’s locked in and destroying whatever was left of Argentina after Durant and LeBron got done with them.
* Coach K is obviously trying to keep his main guys in rhythm for the final, bringing back Paul, James and Durant with six minutes to go in the blowout. I’d love to see Davis with those three but there’s no sign of his eyebrows just yet. It seems he’ll be kept off the floor in favor of giving Chandler some more run in preparation for what should likely be heavy minutes against the tall Spanish team. Check that, here comes Unibrow with three minutes to play.
* Not a good sign here, as Westbrook limps off the court and directly into the locker room. Have to hope he’s good to go on Sunday, he provides great energy off the bench.
* No Unibrow fun. Too bad. It’s clear that the time for goofing around and getting him dunks is over; I’ll always remember the good times. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a few legitimate minutes in the final if Chandler gets in foul trouble, which he’s been prone to since…well, ever.
* As the game ends (109-83), our commentators make their best observation yet. Spain had a somewhat close game against Russia, but was comfortably ahead for the final few minutes. Despite that, the Spanish players were ecstatic after the game ended, celebrating raucously and seeming genuinely stoked just to be in the final.
None of that from the Americans. These guys know that all they’ve done so far is what they’re supposed to do. There’s nothing more than some high-fives. As I’ve noted a couple times before, this team has its share of mental issues. But an understanding of their situation and what is expected of them is certainly not one of them, and neither is a lack of appreciation for how special a team they are a part of. It’s this understanding (plus a healthy dose of LeBron and Durant at the right times) that has them perfect to this point, and if they can keep up their mental resolve they should wake up Monday morning as back-to-back gold medalists. Can’t wait for the final.
By Ben Dowsett (@ben_dowsett)
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