It was a tale of two halves for Team USA as this one started as an offensive showcase. Argentina, paced by old warhorse Manu Ginobili (11 first half points), looked as if it was going to take the U.S. to the brink once again. A lackluster effort on the defensive end allowed the cagey South Americans to carve up an undisciplined American defense in the first 20 minutes. By the intermission, the Argentinians had thrown up a whopping 59 first half points -- one more than China scored in their entire game against Great Britain on Monday.
The third quarter, however, was the start of a different story. LeBron James keyed a much improved effort by setting the tone early in the period with his aggressive drives to the rim. Teammate Kevin Durant picked up where he left off, raining down threes from seemingly everywhere and turning a one-point halftime lead into a 17-point advantage just more than halfway through the quarter.
The defense was a vast improvement as well. Team USA was noticeably more engaged on that end of the floor, holding Argentina to a mere 38 points in the second half. What was likely the last chance for the "Golden Generation" to score another major upset against the U.S. ended in a 126-97 defeat.
Team USA is finally done with pool play. A rusty Tony Parker made the France game a breeze. Tunisia and Nigeria were glorified exhibition games. Argentina, already saddled with razor-thin depth, was down a key starter. Only Lithuania provided a real challenge.
Perhaps those games, as well as the U.S. being all too aware that Group B contained its biggest threats, put the team on autopilot more often that Coach K could have possibly anticipated. Getting out of group play and into the one-and-done format will hopefully inspire this American squad to put forth more consistent effort. After all, a loss now, and an infamous legacy will be attached to this team. No bigger motivating factor than that.
It’s been almost comical to see the number of American players lunging out of position or wildly jumping out of their stance on fakes and misdirection moves by their opponents. They have seemed to forget there is a fine line between “aggressive ball-hawking” and “reckless gambling." For parts of the game against both Lithuania and Argentina, the U.S. was doing far more of the latter. The result has been an unacceptable procession of wide-open shots at the rim by both of their recent opponents.
While some of those are a side effect of Team USA's high-pressure scheme, far too many are caused simply by undisciplined play. The focus moving forward must be to tighten up their defense (and playing more defensive-minded personnel) as much as possible. If the U.S. is unable to locate that happy medium between “aggressive” and "reckless” it could definitely cause trouble in the medal rounds.
The quarterfinal matchup pits Team USA against a feisty Australian squad Wednesday (5:15 ET). Led by speedster Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), the Aussies surprised many with their inspired group play. To hang with the U.S., though, this team will need far more than Mills. NBA alum David Anderson and forward Joe Ingles (once considered an NBA-caliber prospect) will have to continue their solid Olympic play. Make no mistake, a potential upset is very unlikely, but given Team USA’s issues defensively –- particularly with the pick-and-roll -- it's not out of the realm of possibility for Mills to have a brilliant performance and make this one interesting.