Full time: It wasn't nearly as easy as you'd have expected after watching the first quarter, but the Americans ended up coasting to a 101-81 victory [BOX SCORE] to improve to 7-0 at these Olympic games. Today was a true team effort, with Carmelo Anthony's team-high 21 points leading seven U.S. players in double figures. We're tempted to award the game ball to Luis Scola, whose 26 points single-handedly carried Argentina after Manu Ginobili's first-quarter injury. But we'll tab LeBron James instead, who scored eight of his 15 points during Team USA's game-breaking fourth-quarter run, grabbing five boards for good measure. Next up for Team USA is the hotly anticipated rematch with Spain. The U.S. blew the reigning world champions out of the water during group play this past Saturday, rolling comfortably to a 119-82 victory. But while their first meeting meant nothing with both teams having clinched berths in the knockout round, the stakes on Sunday will be considerably higher: a gold medal. We'll be blogging the final in this space at 2:30 a.m. ET early Sunday morning, so make sure to stop by -- whether you've been following America's most popular redemption tale since Josh Hamilton from the beginning ... or you just can't sleep.
0:50.4, 4th: Garbage time. Paul, Wade, Williams, Prince, Boozer on the court. Kobe in grey T-shirt on the bench.
1:32, 4th: Wade slashes toward the goal in transition and deposits a beautiful lay-up to open it up to 101-81.
2:20, 4th: Bosh on the put-back makes it 98-81. Curtains.
3:16, 4th: A haphazard pass ends up in Chris Paul's hands. The U.S. slows it up and gets a bucket from Dwyane Wade on the possession.
3:38, 4th: Delfino's rainbow from the baseline responds to a Dwyane Wade fast-break bucket and closes the deficit to 92-79.
4:51, 4th: Bosh scores from close range, snuffing out the latest Argentine uprising. It's 90-75 inside of the five-minute mark.
5:15, 4th: Scola scores in transition to extend a rapid 6-0 run for Argentina. They just won't quit. Twenty-two points for Scola and it's 88-75.
7:39, 4th: Scola's 18-footer draws iron and LeBron converts on the opposite end to make it 88-69. Endgame time for Team USA. James has poured in eight of the last 10 points for the Americans.
8:45, 4th: LeBron James nails three-pointers on consecutive possessions -- sandwiching a Luis Scola put-back -- to open an 84-66 advantage for the U.S. team.
9:48, 4th: The U.S. turns it over on the first possession of the fourth quarter when Dwight Howard gets whistled for a three-second violation.
10:00, 4th: Kidd on the court to start the fourth quarter for the U.S.
End, 3rd: Still no Ginobili but still no knockout. Delfino just missed a three-pointer at the buzzer which would have cut the U.S. lead to 11 points. Ten minutes left in regulation and the U.S. simply needs to close this thing out to punch its ticket to Sunday's gold medal match.
0:43.0, 3rd: Consecutive turnovers for the United States have helped Argentina put together a 6-0 spurt. Delfino just dribbled down in transition and pulled up for a wide-open three. The shot falls and Argentina trails 78-64.
2:32, 3rd: Gutierrez's three-point attempt rattles in and out. Chris Paul catches the carom practically mid-stride, rushes downcourt and attempts a beautiful 360-degree lay-up while getting fouled -- to the audible oohs and aahs of the crowd. The shot falls wide but Paul splits the foul shots to make it 74-55.
3:25, 3rd: American fans everywhere exhale a sigh of relief as Deron Williams nails a three-pointer to open the advantage to 73-55. With about 13 minutes and change remaining in regulation, the undermanned Argentines can't have another comeback left in them ... can they?
4:06, 3rd: Scola scores again -- he's got 18 points -- to pull Argentina within 68-53. It's a fragile situation but the South Americans are hanging in there.
5:54, 3rd: A stupid -- and perhaps fatal -- mental blunder for Argentina midway through the third frame. Anthony draws a foul on Oberto and Nocioni earns a silly technical foul seconds later. The U.S. gets four attempts from the line plus the ball. Anthony sinks each of the four shots -- but Jason Kidd turns it over to Scola on the possession.
6:21, 3rd: Anthony strikes from the baseline to make it 63-46. That's a game-high 15 points for the Charm City native.
6:53, 3rd: Howard takes a whack down low from Delfino while attempting a shot. Anthony gets into Delfino's face after the play and draws a chorus of boos from the crowd. The ref whistles Delfino for an unsportsmanlike foul, which is two foul shots and possession. Howard splits the pair but scores a two-pointer on the ensuing possession.
7:34, 3rd: As the interplay between the two sides starts to heat up a bit during breaks in play, James cans a massive three-pointer to open the lead to 58-44. Still no sign of Ginobili.
8:20, 3rd: LeBron James picks up his third personal foul while defending Nocioni. Something to keep an eye on.
8:49, 3rd: Here's a slow-developing half-court set for Argentina, with quick passes and a ton of screens, making the U.S. work on defense. The ball ends up in the hands of Prigioni at the top of the key about 25 feet from the basket. He lofts up a three-pointer but it misses the mark.
9:47, 3rd: Howard opens the second-half scoring with a bucket in the paint. Just like that, the U.S. has opened the lead to double digits.
10:00, 3rd: Same five starters for the U.S.: Kidd, Bryant, LeBron, Carmelo and Howard. Same for Argentina also except Gutierrez takes the place of Ginobili, who's still sidelined with an ankle injury.
Halftime: The U.S. runs a play for Melo and he's fouled while shooting a three-pointer, hitting the shots to give Team USA a 49-40 lead at the break. Delfino's desperation three-pointer falls dangerously close but draws iron. It's the first time the U.S. hasn't enjoyed a double-digit halftime lead in Beijing. And it's also the first time -- besides the opener against China -- the audience is clearly pulling for the opponent instead of the Redeem Team itself. Carmelo Anthony leads all scorers with 13 points on 2-for-7 shooting, doing most of his damage from the charity stipe. Meanwhile, Luis Scola has really shouldered the offensive load for Argentina in the absence of Manu Ginobili, logging 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting while pulling seven rebounds. The Albiceleste have managed to get back into the game in spite of their frigid 2-for-10 shooting from three-point range (a credit to Team USA's occasionally suffocating perimeter defense). Argentina has depended instead on a perfect 12-for-12 performance from the line to cut into a U.S. lead which had ballooned to as many as 21 points
0:03.0, 2nd: Trailing 46-40 with the ball, Delfino opts for the dramatics: pulling up for a NBA-length three-pointer (which would've cut the deficit in half) instead of running a half-court set. His shot misses badly and the U.S. rushes downcourt in transition. Ball pops ahead to Kobe Bryant, who rises toward the goal for a dunk but his shot is blocked and falls out of bounds with three seconds left.
1:08, 2nd: Scola working hard in the paint: He backs down Tayshaun Prince, misses the turnaround, collects his own rebound and deposits it home to cut the U.S. lead to 46-38.
2:20, 2nd: The U.S. appeared poised to take back command of the action after Bryant's three-pointer and Melo's foul shots opened the lead to 44-31. But Scola bangs into the lane and converts an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the deficit to 10. They're not going away just yet.
3:42, 2nd: Kobe Bryant hits a three-pointer from the top of the key, interrupting Argentina's momentum and extending the U.S. lead to 11 points. Kobe shakes his head while skipping backwards.
4:11, 2nd: Gutierrez cleans the glass and deposits a put-back, pulling Argentina within single digits for the first time since the 3:13 mark of the first quarter.
4:51, 2nd: Deep reserve Leonardo Martin Gutierrez hits another pair to pull Argentina within 10 points. That Argentina has climbed off the canvas is impressive enough. But they've managed to do it using their unheralded bench players, with Manu Ginobili nursing an injury in the locker room.
5:45, 2nd: The U.S. got into foul trouble early in the second frame and Argentina has used the charity stripe to pull themselves back into this game. Quinteros just sank another pair to close the U.S. advantage to 37-25. Ginobili still in the locker room.
6:41, 2nd: Another five-point spurt -- on an Alfredo Paolo Quinteros three-pointer and a pair of Nocioni free throws -- has pulled Argentina within 37-23.
7:58, 2nd: Just when Argentina strung together five points to cut the deficit to 34-16, Melo cans a three-pointer over the top of the 2-3 zone to re-extend the advantage to 21 points.
9:08, 2nd: Chris Paul is left open in the paint and puts down a mid-range jumper for his sixth and seventh points off the bench. The U.S. leads 32-13.
9:50, 2nd: Nocioni hits a quick basket to open the second-quarter scoring. They're going to need a lot more offense to get back into this one.
End, 1st: What a dominant defensive performance from the United States during the first 10 minutes of this contest. With Manu Ginobili nursing an injury in the locker room and Argentina looking dazed and confused without their leader -- and even with him -- this might be a first-round knockout.
0:49.0, 1st: Carmelo Anthony hits a three-pointer to get in on the action. The U.S. is tripling up the Argentines by a 27-9 count in the final minutes of the opening frame.
1:17, 1st: Argentina finally switches to a zone defense from their standard man-to-man -- and Deron Williams promptly drains a three-pointer over the top of it, answering Prigioni's trey.
1:32, 1st: Pablo Prigioni hits a heavily contested three-pointer to break Team USA's lengthy 18-0 run. The bucket represents Argentina's first points in five-and-a-half-minutes.
2:14, 1st: Paul hits a two-pointer and the U.S. has used an 18-0 run to blow this game wide open.
2:35, 1st: Chris Paul nails a three-pointer to make it 19-4. That's 16 unanswered points for the United States, whose defense is really clicking today.
3:23, 1st: Team USA disrupts Argentina's slow-developing offense, forcing their sixth turnover of the quarter. Kobe Bryant scoops up the loose ball in transition and throws down a two-handed dunk to make it 17-4.
4:12, 1st: Ginobili picks up his second foul while guarding the lightning-quick Chris Paul -- Western Conference semifinals flashbacks, anyone? -- and Argentina coach Sergio Santos Hernandez briefly considers taking him out. But Argentina can't risk falling too far behind with their captain on the bench.
4:46, 1st: Kobe Bryant cans a three-pointer to extend a run of nine unanswered points for the United States. They've pulled ahead 12-4.
5:29, 1st: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh enter the game for the United States. Here's where the Redeem Team has typically broken free from stubborn opponents.
6:42, 1st: Much-maligned point guard Jason Kidd hits a jumper to take the lead right back for the U.S. He's taken a lot of flak for his hesitancy to shoot in Beijing, but he's actually 5-for-5 in the tourney so far. Argentina led for no longer than 10 seconds.
6:52, 1st: Luis Scola puts down a pretty arching hook shot in the paint to give Argentina its first lead of the game at 5-4.
8:29, 1st: Manu Ginobili gets Argentina on the board with a slashing lay-up. Team USA leads 3-2.
9:43, 1st: Kobe Bryant, who scored a tourney-best 25 points against Australia in the quarters, opens the scoring for the U.S. with a tip-in.
10:00, 1st: We're underway from Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing as Dwight Howard wins the tip for the United States.
10:00, 1st: It's Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard wearing the blues for Team USA, the same starting five Mike Krzyzewski has dialed up throughout the Olympic tournament. For Argentina, it's Pablo Prigioni, Carlos Delfino, Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Fabricio Oberto, wearing white.
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As Spain and Lithuania finish up their battle for a spot in Sunday's gold medal game, here's today's starting five: some final thoughts on this morning's "nightcap" between the U.S. and Argentina from Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing.
1. Today's game presents the ultimate contrast of styles, pitting the tournament's fastest-paced team against the slowest. The Americans have averaged a frenetic 81.2 possessions in their six games, compared to just 69.0 for the reigning Olympic champions. Whether the Albiceleste can manage to slow down the breakneck U.S. offense by limiting turnovers and neutralizing the fast break could make the difference between the Redeem Team's seventh straight blowout victory and their first real test of the Olympics..
2. Since FIBA first permitted USA Basketball to include pro players on the national team, the U.S. has amassed an impressive 57-7 record in major international tournaments when enlisting NBA players. Argentina is the only country to defeat the U.S. twice in those games, at the 2002 FIBA Worlds and the 2004 Olympics. But since Team USA's most recent defeat in international play -- the 101-95 loss to Greece in the '06 FIBA Worlds -- the U.S. team has beaten Argentina three times. Team USA rebounded to defeat the South Americans in the third-place game of those world championships and earned two more wins over Argentina on its way to last year's FIBA Americas title.
3. Argentina has made the most three-pointers (59) of any team in Beijing. Since a 5-for-22 performance beyond the arc in a lackluster tourney-opening loss to Lithuania, they've connected on 44.6 percent of their three-point attempts. But even if the sharpshooting carries over into today's semifinal, Argentina will need to ratchet up its heretofore average defensive performance during the Olympics.
4. Anybody want to come up with a nickname for the Chris Paul-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh wave of substitutions? Team USA's "second line" enters the game midway through the first and third quarters and almost always injects the team with energy. (Maybe that's it: E = DC2? … eh, maybe not.) They've made a real habit out of catalyzing game-breaking runs during these Olympics. If Argentina keeps things tight in today's opening stages, look for this group to give the Americans a spark.
5. As far as people-watching goes, keep an eye out for Diego Maradona (above). The Argentine national hero has been ubiquitous at these Olympics, making appearances at the soccer, basketball and field hockey competitions -- shaking hands and kissing babies before finding his seat, slouching back and generally looking like Jabba the Hutt.