LONDON >> One 3-pointer after another, Kevin Durant shot down Argentina — and perhaps the notion that defense wins championships.
This U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team is living proof that the best defense is a good offense. The road to gold in London is built on scores, not stops.
Durant scored 17 of his 28 points during the Americans’ 42-point third quarter, turning a one-point game into a blowout that sent the U.S. soaring into the quarterfinals with a 126-97 victory on Monday night.
Two nights after surviving their first real test in a 99-94 victory over Lithuania, the Americans seemed headed for another tight finish. Argentina shot 56 percent in the first half and the U.S. led just 60-59.
Minutes later, the game — the last before single-elimination play starts — was effectively over.
“I think we did a great job of responding from last game,” Durant said. “It was a tough game and so was the first half tonight. Guys played together. That second half is how we want to play.”
The NBA scoring champion matched the Argentines’ point total in the period, going 5-for-6 from 3-point range, the last one from well beyond 25 feet. The Americans didn’t stop shooting and scoring until Carmelo Anthony made a 3-pointer in the final second of the quarter while taking what he and the U.S. bench right behind him felt was a cheap shot from Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo, setting off an exchange of words and technical fouls.
It was too late by then for the Argentines. They needed to get closer to the U.S. shooters much sooner, and that was hard to do from some of the spots where Durant was pulling up.
The Americans (5-0) will play Australia (3-2) in a quarterfinal game Wednesday.
LeBron James added 18 points, including the Americans’ first seven of the third quarter before Durant took over. Chris Paul finished with 17.
“We’re great shooting team, but in close games sometimes you’ve got to go down and get some easy ones, and I wanted the ball, whether it was layups or in the post,” James said. “Once you get a couple easy ones at the rim, then the 3-pointers open up and you saw what KD was able to do.”
Durant’s 3-pointer after James’ surge gave the U.S. 10 points in 2:10 of the second half, and he made back-to-back 3s midway through the period to make it 85-68. Then he nailed consecutive 3s again later in the quarter, one from beyond the hash line, a distance that most players would never consider pulling up from.
“I really didn’t pay attention to where the line was,” Durant said. “When I caught that ball I was going to shoot it.”
With his 17 points, Durant tied Argentina all by himself in the third quarter. He finished 8-for-10 from 3-point range, where the U.S. team was 20-for-39.
Durant, who holds the U.S. scoring record with 38 points in the 2010 world championship, might have threatened that if not for the lopsided score. He checked out for good about a minute into the fourth quarter.
“It sort of developed, but 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 of the plan to feed Durant. “Luckily, we have a team that has the presence of mind to get it to him. He is unbelievable. We have to yell at him to shoot the ball and as you see, he usually makes it.”
Manu Ginobili scored 16 points for Argentina (3-2), which finished third in Group A.