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Wednesday, November 26, 2014         

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U.S. rolls into finals

By K.C. Johnson

Chicago Tribune

POSTED:


LONDON >> Kobe Bryant sank three 3-pointers and a reverse dunk in the first 4 minutes, 12 seconds. Kevin Durant drained four 3-pointers in the third quarter. Carmelo Anthony added three 3-pointers in a 42-second stretch of the fourth.

And LeBron James, coming off a triple-double, filled the stat sheet again, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in just 28:34.

Any wonder why the U.S. men’s basketball team advanced to its second straight gold-medal game Friday with a 109-83 pasting of Argentina? Even Bryant, who isn’t easily impressed, shook his head and laughed at the offensive firepower flowing from so many sources.

“You got three scorers on this team who get blistering hot if we make two shots in a row. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bryant said. “Me, KD and Melo make two 3s in a row, and all of a sudden it’s like the floodgates open and a 10-point lead turns into 20 very, very quickly.”

The U.S. will face Spain on Sunday in a rematch of the Beijing Olympics gold-medal game won by Bryant and Co. And the U.S. is, shall we say, supremely confident, even if reserve guard Russell Westbrook’s mildly sprained ankle keeps him sidelined.

“Everyone has said this is the game they wanted to see,” James said. “We look forward to it.”

On a night Dwight Howard’s trade to the Lakers threatened to steal the show, Team USA’s shooting display forced the focus back to on-court action — at least for a while. Durant’s five 3-pointers led a barrage of 18, and coach Mike Krzyzewski praised the 13-assist, zero-turnover performance by point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

“When you have guys who can penetrate and pass the way we do, all you have to do is hit open shots,” Durant said.

In the third straight Olympic semifinal between these countries, there were no extracurricular shenanigans like those that marred Monday’s pool-play meeting. That’s when Facundo Campazzo punched Anthony in the groin.

This time, there was merely mutual respect. This could be the end of Argentina’s “Golden Generation” core of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni, who upset the U.S. en route to gold at the 2004 Athens Games and will face Russia on Sunday for bronze.

After Bryant’s blistering start, in which he also dived for a loose ball and pushed the U.S. ahead 15-4, Argentina hung around behind the 3-point shooting of Delfino and Ginobili. Ginobili’s 3-pointer to open the second half pulled Argentina within four.

That’s when Durant heated up from beyond the arc, and James added an exclamation point with a vicious slam over Delfino and three-point play.

“I try to make plays to try to inspire our team offensively and defensively,” James said. “I hope that was the play that started the rally.”

Asked about the play, Krzyzewski played the straight man.

“He dunks emphatically,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t think that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

In fact, Krzyzewski kept playing the deadpan role, responding to one question about how much coaching this team needs by joking he just rolls the balls out at practice after getting “drunk as a skunk” the previous night.

Krzyzewski even facetiously invited reporters to go out with him. In reality, the coach will be breaking down game film of Spain, trying to place a period on his successful run as the national coach with a second gold medal.

Anything short of that would be a colossal failure.

“We have a chance to do something special,” Anthony said. “We don’t take that chance for granted, and we expect to have success.”






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