Olympics Rio 2016: USA answer basketball critics with blowout win over Argentina
The United States reaffirmed their status as gold medal favourites by blowing away Argentina 105-78 on Wednesday to storm into the semi-finals of the Olympic men's basketball tournament.
Even though the American team finished group play without a loss, questions about their ability to claim a third straight gold swirled after three unimpressive narrow wins to close out preliminary play.
But they were back at their dominating and lethal best against Argentina, extending their Olympic winning streak to 23 games.
Clearly looking to send a message, the USA conceded an early 19-10 lead before flexing their muscles with a 26-2 run that linked the opening two quarters to take command.
And the win was extremely comfortable in the end, with the Argentina supporters making the most of their last ten minutes of Olympic action by making a terrific late atmosphere.
"We got our swagger back, offensively and defensively," declared Paul George to reporters after the United States took their Olympic winning streak to 23 games.
With the United States looking vulnerable, the fourth ranked Argentines came into the quarter-final thinking 'upset'. After all, they had done it before.
With a 135-5 record in Olympic competition, losses are rare at the Games for the United States, but Argentina can claim one of them. It came on the same stage 12 years ago at the 2004 Athens Olympics when Argentina beat the Dream Team in the semi-finals and then went on to take the gold.
That loss triggered an overhaul of USA Basketball, the men going unbeaten ever since. But on Wednesday there would be no repeat against a motivated Team USA that clearly wanted to make a statement.
Kevin Durant had a big say in the outcome, leading the U.S. on the scoresheet with a game-high 27 points, while George had 17 and eight rebounds.
"The only thing that we changed was our passion and our energy," said Durant. "We were all one unit tonight and we need that going forward. We always felt we had another level to go to, especially after the last three games in the pool play."
The United States will now face Spain, 92-67 winners over France, on Friday for a place in the gold medal final. The other semi-final will see Australia, who dumped Lithuania 90-64, take on the winner of Croatia and Serbia who play later on Wednesday.