Olympics: Redeem Team a step closer
Victory puts bitter Argentine memory behind U.S. squad
BEIJING For the United States men's basketball foursome of Carlos Boozer, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, Friday night's 101-81 semifinal victory over defending Olympics champion Argentina helped heal some 4-year-old wounds.
The U.S. quartet are holdovers from the American squad that lost to Argentina in the semis at the 2004 Athens Games en route to a 5-3 record and a bronze medal.
"Before the game, me, D-Wade, 'Bron and 'Melo got together, and we're all saying we've been waiting for this for four years," said Boozer. "We got our revenge on Argentina, but the ultimate goal isn't Argentina, our ultimate goal is the gold medal."
And the gold goal can be realized Sunday when the undefeated United States squad plays Spain for a second time in the Beijing Olympics tournament, since both won Friday night's semifinals at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.
Anthony's 21 points on 4-for-13 shooting from the floor but a perfect 13-of-13 from the line and James' 15 points paced seven Americans in double figures.
Deron Williams added six on a pair of 3-pointers, while Boozer missed his only attempt in the game's final minutes.
The U.S. looked set to spank Argentina from the start, going on an 18-0 run in the first quarter for a 21-4 lead.
And when Argentina star guard Manu Ginobili suffered a left ankle injury late in the quarter and left the game for good, onlookers sensed the game might turn ugly.
It did, as in physical-and-rough ugly, not lopsided-rout ugly, as Argentina battled back from a 19-point lead going into the second quarter to cut the deficit to nine at intermission.
"They fought back, they didn't give up," said Boozer. "They're not that kind of team."
Williams had another source for Argentina's comeback.
"We felt like we relaxed a little bit when we saw Ginobili go out we stopped playing defense a little bit and softened up," he said. "We came out in the second half and did a better job of that."
Still, Argentina kept it between 13 and 19 points until the game's final minutes. Luis Scola led Argentina with 28 points on 13-of-21 shooting, while Carlos Delfino added 17.
More than any other U.S. opponent at the Beijing Games, Argentina got the Americans hot and bothered particularly Anthony and starting center Dwight Howard, who were the target of bumps, thumps, knees and elbows in and around the lane.
"Those are the kinds of things these teams do to try and beat us," Williams said. "A lot of these teams can't come out here and beat us without messing with us or getting under our skins. We knew that, and we expect that."
The U.S. whipped Spain by 37 points in pool play last weekend, while Argentina playing most of the game without Ginobili kept its second-half deficits at half that.
So, is Argentina or Spain with its own injury woes keeping Jose Calderon out and Juan Carlos Navarro limited the toughest opponent the United States will face?
Boozer didn't bite on the question.
"I just know that our road to our gold medal went through Argentina," he said. "We've passed that now and on to Spain. Spain is our gold-medal competition."And Williams warned the Spaniards: "I feel sorry for them. We're going to be ready," he said. "We've waited for this moment for four years. I think we've played hard the past seven games but wait until Sunday."
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