US men stay unbeaten at Olympics

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, August 7, 2012

LONDON — Excused to leave the postgame news conference, Chris Paul said thank you, walked to the end of the dais, lost his balance and nearly fell.

He stayed on his feet. Disaster averted.

“Don’t get hurt,” American coach Mike Krzyzewski said, relieved to see his starting point guard was OK.

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The Americans are fine, too.

They haven’t had a major misstep in this tournament. They can’t afford one now.

Not three wins from Olympic gold.

Draining five 3-pointers, one deeper than the next, Kevin Durant scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 28 as the U.S. men’s team made a defense-be-damned statement before entering the medal round with a 126-97 win over pesky rival Argentina on Monday night.

With their fourth blowout in five games, the Americans (5-0) moved into the quarterfinals, where they’ll meet Australia (3-2) on Wednesday night and proclaimed that if anyone is to beat them in the days ahead they’re going to have to outshoot these run-and-gunslingers from the U.S.

Two games after Carmelo Anthony’s record-setting performance, it was Durant’s turn to put on a show. Once Durant got hot, there was nothing Argentina could do.

“Anybody in their right mind, when he gets shooting the ball like that, there’s only one thing to do: Get the ball to him,” Paul said. “Luckily, we have a team that has the presence of mind to get it to him. He’s unbelievable. We have to yell at him to shoot the ball and as you see, he usually makes it.”

Leading by just one at halftime, the U.S. outscored Argentina (3-2) 42-17 in the third quarter, which began with LeBron James flexing his muscles inside. James scored seven quick points, forcing the Argentines to play defense a little closer to the basket. They moved and Durant made them pay.

He hit consecutive 3s to make it 85-66, sending center Tyson Chandler high-stepping from the U.S. bench toward the baseline and making Andre Iguodala belly flop to the floor. Moments later, Durant was at it again, hitting two more long-range shots in succession, the second one seemingly from Piccadilly Circus.

“Once I caught it and shot it, it just felt good,” Durant said. “I was in rhythm. I really didn’t pay attention to where the line was. When I caught that ball, I was going to shoot it. It was a great pass and I’m glad I made it.”

The U.S. only had one tough game, beating Lithuania 99-94, a close call that seemed to awaken the Americans after routs of France, Tunisia and the historic, 156-point annihilation of Nigeria.

In pool play, there was a margin for error.

It’s gone, and Durant said the Americans know they aren’t invincible.

“We can be beat if we don’t come out and play the way we’re supposed to play,” he said. “You’ve got to always turn it on, you can’t just turn it on in the third quarter. We have to be focused and ready.”

In the other quarterfinals, Russia, which lost for the first time in the tournament when Australia’s Patty Mills made a 3-pointer as time expired, faces Lithuania. Spain plays France in a rematch of the Spaniards’ victory in last year’s European championship, and in another rematch from last summer, South American rivals Argentina and Brazil meet.

James added 18 points and Paul 17 for the Americans, who were fueled by Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo hitting Carmelo Anthony in the groin as he hit a 3-pointer to end the third.

With Anthony buckled over on the floor, players on both benches pointed fingers and jawed at each other.

Campazzo acknowledged hitting Anthony on purpose, and said he did it because Paul had punched him earlier.

Following the game, Kobe Bryant confronted Campazzo.

“It was inappropriate,” Bryant said. “I said, ’you don’t do that’ and he said, ’I know.’ He knows he’s wrong. That was uncalled for and I let him know. To his credit, he acknowledged it. He said, ’My fault, I know.’ And that was it.”

Maybe not.

Argentina and the U.S. could meet again in the semifinals. The two hooked up in the 2004 Athens Games with Argentina winning before the Americans atoned four years in Beijing.

“We find a way to play them every single year,” Paul said. “It’s a rivalry.”

Bryant said the 29-point was the U.S. team’s way of reminding the Argentineans they’ll have to play much better — or settle for silver or bronze.

“You kind of want to send a message a little bit,” said Bryant, who scored just 11 points. “This was the second game in a row that a team has played us close. We didn’t want to give them confidence.”

Manu Ginobili scored 16 points for Argentina (3-2), which would have won Group A via tiebreaker if it had blown out the U.S.

A crowd featuring former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and ex-heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield was treated to an offensive show in the first half with little more defense than the NBA All-Star game. A basket on one end was answered quickly by a shot on the other in what was shaping up as a thriller between the last two Olympic champions.

But the U.S. simply has too much offense, even if the defense could use some tightening up.

They may not need to.

The Americans just might be able to shoot their way to the top.

“In the third quarter, they had three or four 3-pointers,” said Argentina’s Leonardo Gutierrez, who apparently lost track in the hail U.S. of 3s. “They got one after another, all in a row, and we had a strong offense and gained many points, but that is something very difficult for any team to overcome.”