Olympics: U.S. men’s basketball romps
BEIJING ó The climb back to the top is nearly complete. One more win and U.S. basketball is golden again.
The Americans ended their streak of final four flops and Argentina’s hopes of an Olympic gold-medal repeat, starting fast and finishing strong in a 101-81 semifinal victory Friday.
All that’s left is what the U.S. players came for: a gold medal.
The United States scored 21 of the first 25 points, got a big break when Argentina star Manu Ginobili reinjured his left ankle, and surged into its first gold-medal game in eight years.
There’s still 40 minutes to go, but this U.S. team looks good as gold. All the Americans have to do now is beat Spain, who they clobbered by 37 points in pool play, on Sunday to win their first gold in a major international event since the 2000 Olympics.
What followed was a frustrating and embarrassing stretch in which they couldn’t even make the podium in the 2002 world championships, then managed only bronze medals after losing in the semis of the 2004 Athens Games and ’06 worlds.
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James were part of those bronze busts, and vowed they’d leave China with gold. Anthony scored 21 points and James added 15, 13 in the second half.
Luis Scola scored 28 points for Argentina, which didn’t relinquish its title without a fight. Even without Ginobili for the final 31/2 quarters, the Argentines cut a 21-point lead into single digits and frustrated the Americans with their physical play, but they didn’t have enough depth or firepower without their best player.
Lithuania and Argentina will meet Sunday for the bronze. Spain beat Lithuania 91-86 in the first semifinal.
When the Americans fell from the top of world basketball, it was Argentina as much as anyone who took their place ó and hastened their fall. The Argentines, with Ginobili’s flair and Scola’s force, won gold in 2004 and silver in the 2002 world championships, beating the United States in both tournaments. The victory in Indianapolis was the first time a U.S. team lost with NBA players.
They knocked off the Americans again four years ago in the semis, and Bryant said two nights ago he wanted to face Argentina in this round.
Now Argentina’s time has passed.