A nasty, bad-tempered joust with the Argentina men’s basketball team woke up the sleeping giants from the U.S. on Monday, spurring them to a 126-97 victory that earned the top-seeded berth in the quarterfinals.
Players from both sides were knocked down in a closely fought first half and they often glowered at each other as the contest turned into a rout for the Americans who had narrowly beaten Lithuania in their previous game.
“Tonight’s game was so much fun,” U.S. point guard Chris Paul said. “I give Argentina a lot of credit. Those guys pushed us, they made us compete. I loved it. When it gets a little chippy here and there, it gets you excited.”
The muscular LeBron James threw an arm out at one point to sweep experienced Argentine Manu Ginobili off his feet.
After going to intermission locked in a 60-59 struggle, Argentina was buried under a flurry of 3-pointers from Kevin Durant.
Durant, who was 8-of-10 on 3-pointers in the game, nailed four from beyond the arc in a third-quarter stretch that took the U.S. lead from 12 points to 24.
The quarter ended with more physical combat as Carmelo Anthony hit the floor doubled up in pain after making a 3-pointer to send the Americans into the fourth session with a 102-76 advantage.
“He got hit in the groin. That’s why he buckled. He wasn’t celebrating his shot,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
It seemed a fight might break out at that point as several players from both teams approached each other near midcourt before being separated.
Argentina won the gold medal in 2004 and is the only nation apart from the U.S. to win the Olympic title since the triumphant American ‘Dream Team’ was launched at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
Durant led the Americans with 28 points. James added 18 while Ginobili scored 16 points as Argentina’s high scorer.
The win helped the Americans complete a 5-0 record in Group A and they now face Australia (3-2) in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.