USA-Argentina live blog

Tipoff is minutes away in the third straight Olympic semifinal meeting between Argentina and the United State of America. Argentina has had more success against the USA than any other team in the Dream Team era, but even Manu Ginobili, playing in perhaps his last international, knows his team faces a huge challenge, putting its chances of winning today at somewhere between 5 and 10  percent. He also said Argentina is going to give it everything it has against the overwhelming favorites to win gold. We’ll be here throughout with notes and observations.

First quarter

Interesting day for Kobe Bryant and Andre Iguodala, the latter having been joined by yet another dominant big man in Los Angeles, and the former having been traded from Philadelphia and Denver as part of the Dwight Howard deal. Could be a challenge to maintain focus against the bulldog Argentinians.

9:50: Ginobili steals the tip, feeds Scola for the 18-footer. Nice start for Argentina — 10 seconds down, 39:50 to go!

8:11: Argentina picking its poison, sitting back in a zone and daring the USA to shoot from outside. Kobe’s already taken advantage for a 3, and just reverse dunked in somebody’s face for a 5-4 lead.

7:32: Scola’s scoop shot sent about 20 rows into the stands by Kevin Durant.

6:09: Kobe drills his second 3 in Andres Nocioni’s grill, Durant follows with the steal and breakaway dunk, USA leads 15-4, timeout Argentina. Somebody was curious about Bryant’s focus? He’s already got eight points with less than four minutes gone. Ginobili: zero, 0-for-1 shooting.

5:10: Ginobili finally gets on the board with a George Gervin finger roll, Kobe counters with his third 3. USA, 18-6.

4:06: Goodness, Kevin Durant just missed consecutive open jumpers. Should have left him at home.

3:46: Ginobili finally finds the range with a nothing-but-net 3, Argentina back to within 18-11.

2:29: LeBron with the great chase down block on Delfino, Argentina still on a 9-0 run and down only five, 18-13.

1:50: Nocioni with the buttery pull-up, Argentina has 11 straight.

1:35: Kevin Love’s Beard hits the offensive glass, draws the foul and makes one to snap Argentina run. USA, 19-15.

1:15: Gorgeous driving layup by Westbrook, USA 21-17.

0:00: USA leads 24-19. Great job by Argentina weathering the early storm and climbing back into it. Just the kind of resilience you’d expect from such a veteran team. Scola said Argentina had to hold USA in the 90s to have any chance, and its on pace through one. Have to wonder about depth, however; Ginobili played the entire first and probably won’t rest hardly at all.

Second quarter

9:13: Kobe’s 4 for 7, rest of Team USA is 5 for 14. Make it 5 for 15 after Deron Williams bricks a 3.

7:24: Delfino with the HIIIIIIIGH arcing 3, Argentina back within 4 at 28-24.

5:44: Amazing pass from Chris Paul to LeBron in the lane, USA 34-27. Kevin Love’s Beard with another offensive board.

5:11: LeBron James — AKA The Best Player in the World — just overpowering Argentina off the dribble in this quarter. He’ll shoot the bonus after bulling his way to the rim for his fourth layup in the last three minutes.

Put those retirement plans on hold for Argentina’s “Golden Generation.” Craig Sager just reported that Nocioni said that another medal could motivate them to return for yet another Olympics. It bears noting that Manu will be 39 in 2016.

4:59: Ginobili finally gets a rest with the USA leading 39-27.

3:42: Delfino keeping Argentina in it, hits another gap-closing 3, USA up 41-32.

2:41: A small victory for Argentina. Ginobili checks back in, and it actually managed to cut a couple of points into the lead. Scary thought, though: Argentina trails 45-35 and both Durant and Anthony have been mediocre at best.

0:35: Prigioni with the gorgeous feed to Scola inside, USA’s lead back down to eight, 45-37. Argentina trails, but the pace has certainly been to its liking.

0:01: Argentina races down quickly after Kevin Love’s Beard scores and — who else? — Ginobili hits a 3 pointer just before the buzzer to make it 47-40. Not a terrible spot for the USA, which has a decent lead despite shooting horribly (5 for 16)  from the arc. That’s been a strength all tournament long; remember the onslaught of 3s that broke open the USA’s rout of Argentina in pool play? But certainly, Argentina has kept the pace and the score very much to its liking.

USA had been plus-26 per game from the 3-point line in the Olympics. Today? Minus 3.

Third quarter

9:50: And Bryant promptly bricks a quick 3.

9:40: Not so for Ginobili, who drills another one from beyond the arc. Team USA’s lead down to 4, 47-43. Outscoring Team USA by eight after the early 18-6 deficit.

9:05: USA back up eight after two technical free throws and a rare tip-in from Tyson Chandler.

7:51: Argentina continues to hang around. Turnover at the US end leads to Ginobili’s three-point play at the other end, back within five at 51-46.

6:26: Bad sequence for Argentina. Durant sandwiches a couple of 3s — the second after a tremendous offensive rebound by LeBron James — around a floater from Chris Paul for a quick 8-0 lead. Just like that, USA leads 59-46 and Argentina is hanging on by its fingernails.

4:01: LeBron turns the corner and explodes for a dunk over Nocioni, and one. Good, even though the rim is still shaking. USA 64-51.

2:02: Durant, MIA throughout the first half, is officially on fire. Hits his fourth 3 of the quarter, USA leads 70-53.

0:44: Ginobili flings in a stop-and-pop floater, Argentina back within 15.

0:00: USA, 74-57. All those open looks Argentina was conceding finally started falling in the third as Durant sank four 3s. The real difference maker, however, continues to be LeBron James. His fingerprints were on virtually everything Team USA did, be it swooping layups, powerful rebounds or kickouts to open shooters. He’s got 18/6/6 through three, and the USA is on pace for another date with Spain.

Fourth quarter

9:15: Westbrook drains a 3, the lead blows past 20, and the rout is officially on.

6:34: Behold the power of a fully operational Team USA. Melo’s second straight 3 gives the Americans a 93-64 advantage. Doug Collins makes a great point — with a bronze medal game to play against Russia tomorrow morning, Argentina is probably better served by pulling the plug.

3:08: It’s beyond garbage time at this point. Ginobili and Co. are all on the bench, and the lead’s been hovering between 25-28 for the last few minutes. Argentina did a great job for two quarters, but the USA’s superior shooting was just too much to contain for an entire game.

0:00: USA wins 109-83. Much like the Australia game, the final score doesn’t do justice to how well Team USA’s opponent fought. But in the end, you need to play perfectly and hope the USA helps out by shooting poorly to have any chance of an upset. That didn’t come remotely close to happening today, even after Argentina controlled the pace in the first half,  as USA sank 13 of 26 3-pointers in the second.

Kobe Bryant scored all 13 of his points in the first half to keep the USA ahead, Kevin Durant picked up the slack with 15 of his 19 in the second, and LeBron James was dominant throughout, following up the first triple double in Team USA history with 18/7/7. Manu Ginobili (18 points), Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino (15 apiece) both acquitted themselves, but it wasn’t nearly enough to avert the USA’s second-half onslaught.

So, after having defeated Argentina three times in the past three weeks, the last two in emphatic fashion, USA has done nothing to diminish its status as the heavy favorite in Sunday’s gold medal final with Spain. Argentina will look to bring home its third medal in three Olympics — an impressive feat by anyone’s standard outside of the USA.

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