LONDON (AP) — Kevin Durant shot the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team out of trouble, and right into the top seed in their group.
Durant scored 17 of his 28 points during the Americans’ explosive 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 over Argentina on Monday night.
The NBA scoring champion matched the Argentines’ point total in the period, going 5-of-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.
“You kind of want to send a message a little bit,” Kobe Bryant said. “This was the second game in a row that a team has played us close. We didn’t want to give them confidence.”
The Americans (5-0) will play Australia (3-2) in a quarterfinal game Wednesday.
LeBron James added 18 points, getting 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.”
Two nights after surviving their first real test in a 99-94 victory over Lithuania, it seemed the Americans might be headed for another tight finish. Argentina shot 56 percent in the first half and the U.S. led just 60-59.
Minutes later, it was effectively over.
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. He nailed consecutive 3s again later in the quarter, the latter 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.”
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.
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. Instead, it finished third and will face Brazil in the quarterfinals.
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.
The Americans have two days to work on it before facing the Australians (3-2), who pulled a surprise earlier Monday, handing Group B champion Russia its first loss, 82-80, on Patty Mills’ 3-pointer as time expired.
Then again, maybe the defense is fine as it is.
Durant finished 8 of 10 from 3-point range and the Americans were 20 of 39.
James, who scored nine of his 20 points in the final four minutes Saturday, now has 225 points as a U.S. Olympian, pulling within six of Charles Barkley for third place on the U.S. career list.
The closer on Saturday was a late arrival in this one, returning from the locker room area, leaping over a barrier like an Olympic hurdler to jump back in line in time for the national anthem.
Still missing at the start was the U.S. defense.
The Americans, who insist their defense is their strength, allowed Argentina to make 11 of its first 15 shots, falling behind 30-29 when Leonardo Gutierrez made a 3-pointer with 1:03 left in the first quarter. Durant’s 3-pointer as time expired gave the U.S. a 34-32 lead headed to the second.
The U.S. could only get its lead as high as six in the second — though nobody was quite sure when it happened. Andre Iguodala’s ferocious dunk on the fast break was thrown down with such force that it hit his chest and ricocheted back up through the basket so quickly that it was unclear if it went in at all. The PA announcer and scoreboard operator counted it, but Argentina simply pushed the ball up the other way as if the shot had missed. Replays showed it clearly went all the way down, making it 45-39.
The game between the longtime rivals got testy in the second half, and they could see each other again soon. They would meet in the semifinals for the third straight Olympics if both win Wednesday.
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