The United States men’s national team kept bending to Argentina, but their structural integrity withstood continuous stress to pick up an 86-80 victory in Olympic exhibition play Sunday at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant piled on the offense, finishing with a game-high 27 points and six assists, hitting seven of 11 shots from three-point range.
“We learned a lot tonight. We just have to keep getting better for the Olympics and our guys did a good job of playing through everything, playing hard, playing together,” Durant said.
Team USA (4-0) held a 20-point distance twice, once early in the second quarter and once late in the third. Despite counters on both occasions from Argentina, the margin never shrunk beyond four, even when Argentina made an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to trail 78-74 with 2:50 left in regulation.
Durant and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul responded with back-to-back treys as Argentina ran out of options and time.
“Kevin was sensational tonight against man and zone,” said United States head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We have to be careful in how we pace the team, not just for the Thunder and Heat, but for all of our NBA players because it’s been a very condensed, tough season. But, they’ve handled everything well.”
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had his best performance for the Americans in the exhibition portion of the Olympic schedule, getting 18 points. Miami Heat forward LeBron James added 15 points and seven rebounds.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love got little action in a true primer for the international tournament, getting just two rebounds in seven minutes of play.
For Argentina, one of several foreign “breeding grounds” for the NBA, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili led the team with 23 points. Milwaukee Bucks wing Carlos Delfino had 15 points, and Phoenix Suns forward Luis Scola had 14 points.
“Argentina is a very good team and very tough-minded. They continue to play hard. For us, it was a big challenge to try to put the game away,” Bryant said.
Laden with talent, considerable discussion around the Unites States roster zooms in on their small build. While versatile, the disadvantage inside led the Americans to retreat to the perimeter frequently; more than half of their field goal attempts were from three-point range.
“We can’t get too caught up in the 3-point line,” James said. “We need to be more balanced and attacking and getting into the lane and creating some more.”
Argentina is one of the primary contenders for a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Games, hoping to make their 2004 gold medal less lonely. They will face the United States at least once more in tournament pool play, but reporters were already fantasizing Tuesday’s exhibition contest between the United States and Spain. The two nations have not met since the gold medal game in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, won by the United States.
“When we play, we’re going to compete and play hard and try to win. Lot of it is for bragging rights during the season. It’s going to be fun,” Bryant said.
Coincidentally, the Americans will meet the Spanish in the same country where the impact of the NBA was witnessed by an international audience for the first time. Professional players were permitted to participate in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, allowing the “Dream Team” to form.
The current group of Americans honored the 20th anniversary of that pivotal chapter by wearing throwback jerseys with the 1992 design.
“In the locker room, everybody was taking pictures with the uniforms. It brought back so many memories,” said New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.