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  • 09:25 AM ET  09.09

Hi everybody,

Last week, I promised more information about the new and improved FanNation we've developed throughout the summer. The wait is almost over.

On Wednesday morning, we're going to roll out the revamped site. After listening to your feedback, we've added many of your suggestions into a site that we're certain you'll be excited about. Besides the features you've come to enjoy, we'll be adding lots of other things, such as a live scoreboard on the home page so you can track all the action as it happens, no matter which sport; an aggregator which brings the best blogs across the web for you to read instantly; the ability to embed video; message boards for holding discussions and exchanging viewpoints; and the debut of For The Record, a new blog in which SI's team of writers will provide running opinion and analysis with an edge. All of these features will be wrapped in a cleaner design and improved functionality for those tools you already use.

And remember: Even though the appearance of FanNation will be dramatically different, my role remains the same. I'm still your touch point for any questions or concerns. Problem with another community member? Email me. Something on the site is broken? Email me. You see an inappropriate profile picture? Email me. I promise to be as prompt as possible in getting back to you and fixing what needs to be fixed. The best way to reach me is through the site's FanMail in my profile.

Best,
Bryan

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  • 01:50 PM ET  09.02

Hi everybody,

I can't reveal too much since we're currently hashing out the eleventh-hour details, but we've got some major changes in store for FanNation, as my initial post from June indicated (the same one referenced by Dookie in his dispatch from this morning). I'm talking a Danny Ainge-type overhaul. And it's been your feedback and suggestions from the past couple months which have helped shape this project from jump street.

We'll be announcing the official launch date with more concrete information in this space over the next week, so keep your eyes peeled. I've been testing the revamped site this week and -- while I'll wait until the next post to divulge the most attractive elements and features -- I can guarantee it's a product worthy of this ever-passionate community.

As always, email me with questions and comments -- and enjoy the opening weekend of the NFL season!

Best,
Bryan

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  • 02:18 AM ET  08.24

Full time: A noble effort from the Spanish in making Team USA buckle down and earn its gold in the most enthralling Olympic final in history: United States 118, Spain 107 [BOX SCORE]. The reigning world champs trailed by just two points in the fourth quarter, but the U.S. used a 13-3 burst to take command and complete the redemption story. Sharing today's game ball are Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, who combined for 47 points and eight assists in the winning effort -- with each player demonstrating their trademark brand of mettle during gut-check time. For Spain, Rudy Fernandez (22 points) and Pau Gasol (21) paced six Spanish players in double figures. Make sure to log onto SI.com on Monday for our Post-Olympic Power Rankings, which will assuredly find the Redeemed Team at the top of the table. Thanks to everybody who stopped by tonight despite the ungodly tip time and we'll see you in London 2012! 

0:00.0, 4th: Some sloppy endgame doesn't damper the electric environment at the Wukesong Indoor Stadium, where chants of U-S-A, U-S-A ring through the crowd.

0:26.1, 4th: Rubio fouls Chris Paul, who will head to the line for two shots ... but Ricky Rubio's just been issued a technical foul. The U.S. will get four foul shots and the ball. The American players are already celebrating on the bench as Spain unravels on the court.

0:35.1, 4th: Marc Gasol puts in a lay-up to cut it to 115-107. 

1:00, 4th: Kobe Bryant drains a running jumper at the 1:11 mark to open the lead to 113-105. Navarro misses on the other end and Spain's got to make this thing a foul shooting contest. 

1:52, 4th: Navarro draws a foul on Kobe -- his fourth personal -- and Spain is in the bonus. Navarro splits a pair.

2:02, 4th: Wade responds with a trifeca from the elbow, putting the Americans back ahead 111-104. He's got 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting off the bench.

2:25, 4th: Jimenez puts down a three-pointer from the baseline to cut the U.S. lead to 108-104. Wow. 

3:01, 4th: Kobe Bryant nails a three-pointer while getting fouled by Rudy Fernandez, his fifth personal. Bryant makes the free throw, converting a gigantic four-point play. Compounding matters for Spain, Fernandez has fouled out of the game. This might be curtains for the Spanish.

3:30, 4th: Pau Gasol hits a wide-open jumper from 13 feet to pull Spain withing 104-99. They just won't go away.

4:02, 4th: Pau Gasol draws a foul on Dwight Howard -- his fourth -- and heads to the line for a pair. (Meanwhile, Chris Bosh enters the game for Howard.) Gasol makes the first and makes the second. It's 104-97.

4:21, 4th: Dwight Howard goes to the line for two shots. Misses the first. Makes the second. Always an adventure with the big guy.

5:04, 4th: Rudy Fernandez drives the right side of the lane and throws down a monster one-handed dunk while drawing a foul. He hits the free throw to convert the old-fashioned three-point play and close the U.S. lead to 103-95. 

5:56, 4th: ... but Kobe answers with a trifecta on the other end. Team USA leads 101-92. 

6:10, 4th: Rudy Fernandez cans a three-pointer to close the U.S. lead to 98-92 ... 

6:43, 4th: Huge dunk in traffic for Dwight Howard to open a 98-89 advantage. 

7:20, 4th: Deron Williams, left wide open on the left elbow, nails a three-point. A 5-0 spurt has given the Americans some breathing room at 96-89.

7:44, 4th: LeBron James picks up his fourth personal foul. 

7:59, 4th: Kobe Bryant hits an enormous shot for Team USA, opening the lead to 93-89.

8:11, 4th: And Rudy Fernandez strokes a three-pointer to close the U.S. lead to 91-89! Mike Krzyzewski calls a timeout to talk it over.

8:44, 4th: ... and Kobe misses a three. Gasol converts on the other end, pulling Spain within 91-87.

9:10, 4th: Pau Gasol tips in a missed shot to pull Spain within 91-84. They could really use a stop here. They're showing man-to-man ... 

9:35, 4th: Another missed opportunity for Team USA on the fast break and LeBron James picks up his third personal foul. 

End, 3rd: Navarro puts down a lay-up at the buzzer to close the margin to 91-82 with 10 minutes remaining in regulation. We've got ourselves a game! 

0:44.5, 3rd: Carmelo Anthony hits a massive three-pointer to give the U.S. a 91-80 advantage. 

1:07, 3rd: Gasol throws down a perfunctory alley-oop dunk off a beautiful feed from Ricky Rubio. Little margin for error on that pass -- the teenager really had to thread the needle.

1:59, 3rd: Just when the U.S. had opened the lead to double digits and appeared poised to blow it wide open, Navarro drives the right side of the lane to cut it back down to 86-78. 

3:00, 3rd: Bosh hits a pair of fouls. Spain can't convert on the other end. Kobe Bryant rises to shoot a three but passes at the last second to Wade, who draws a foul while attempting an acrobatic lay-in. Wade makes the first of two, and the U.S. leads 84-76.

3:38, 3rd: Marc Gasol splits a pair of fouls to pull Spain within 81-76. 

3:44, 3rd: Bodies on the floor. Heavy contact. Physical punishment. Team USA is getting pushed and they're answering the call.  

4:28, 3rd: Rubio drives into the paint but slips and gets whistled for traveling. Team USA has the ball with a 77-73 lead.

5:48, 3rd: Spain shows zone coming out of the timeout. Carmelo Anthony misses a three. Spain grabs the rebound and takes over possession with a chance to cut the lead to two. 

6:05, 3rd: Navarro drives into the lane and launches a running jumper from 14 feet. The basket falls through the goal and closes the U.S. advantage to 75-71. Mike Krzyzewski calls timeout to reorganize with his troops.

7:00, 3rd: Navarro pulls Spain back within four points following a Carmelo Anthony put-back on the opposite end.

7:29, 3rd: A Gasol bucket in the paint cuts the U.S. lead to 71-67. 

8:20, 3rd: Rudy Fernandez misses a three-pointer which would have cut the U.S. lead to 69-66. Dwight Howard responds on the other end with his first basket -- on his first field goal attempt -- of the entire game. 

9:00, 3rd: Two turnovers for Team USA and a Kobe Bryant airball in the first minute of the second half. 

9:36, 3rd: Reyes scores to open the second-half scoring. The bucket closes the deficit to six points. 

10:00, 3rd: Twenty minutes stands between Team USA and its first major international tournament victory in eight years. Can they close the deal?

Halftime: An entertaining, free-flowing first half finds the Redeem Team on pace for its highest-scoring game of the tournament -- while nursing their smallest halftime lead of the Olympics. Spain has managed handle the frenetic tempo in stride, going blow for blow with the deep and talented American side. They've given the Americans different looks on defense, alternating between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone. And they've gotten scoring from a bunch of different sources, with nine different players logging field goals during the first 20 minutes. Pau Gasol paces his side with 13 points, leading a group of seven different Spanish players with six or more points. Meanwhile, it's been the Dwyane Wade show for the Americans. The Marquette product picked up the slack with Kobe and LeBron stuck on the bench with foul trouble, pouring in a game-high 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Chris Paul added 10 points, mostly in transition and also off the bench. Team USA has knocked down 22-of-34 shots from the floor -- an outrageous 64.7 percent clip. But Spain isn't very far behind, making 19-of-31 field goal attempts -- or 61.3 percent.

0:00.0, 2nd: Navarro turns it over on Spain's final possession of the first half. Wade rushes downcourt and lofts a three-pointer from the elbow which draws iron, chirping in referee Pablo Estevez's ear about the alleged contact while walking off the court. 

0:27.7, 2nd: Chris Paul sinks a pair of fouls to push it out to 69-61. 

0:47.7, 2nd: Navarro draws a foul on the other end and splits a pair to pull Spain within 67-61. 

0:52.8, 2nd: Wade misses his first shot of the game, a three-pointer from the elbow which falls short. 

1:12, 2nd: Reyes deposits a lay-up to pull the Spanish within single digits again. Will they let the Americans push their lead out again or can they dig deeper this time? 

2:15, 2nd: Every time Spain pulls within striking distance, Dwyane Wade answers with a dagger. Wade just canned another three-pointer, improving to 7-for-7 from the field today. He's got 21 points off the bench with two minutes in change remaining in the first half. Keep in mind the U.S. Olympic single-game record is 31 points by Stephon Marbury in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Games. The opponent? Spain.

4:02, 2nd: LeBron James cans a three-pointer to open the U.S. lead to 58-44, the largest lead of the game. Team USA is 7-of-10 from three-point range today. 

4:58, 2nd: Wade hits another three-pointer. He's unconscious today, with 18 points off the bench in less than nine minutes. 

5:13, 2nd: Dwyane Wade explodes into a passing lane and intercepts a lazy pass near midcourt, racing to the rim for an uncontested dunk to open the U.S lead to 10 points. 

5:43, 2nd: Jimenez draws a foul on Dwight Howard to put Spain in the bonus for the rest of the second quarter. He hits both free throws to close the margin to 48-42. 

6:13, 2nd: Team USA snaps Spain's 5-0 mini-run when Chris Paul throws a beautiful 35-foot alley-oop pass to Kobe Bryant, who rises awkwardly and somehow redirects the ball into the goal. The basket re-extends the U.S. lead to 48-40. 

6:56, 2nd: Rubio sinks a pair of fouls to close it to 46-38. 

7:18, 2nd: Rudy Fernandez hits a contested three-pointer from the elbow to cut the deficit to 10 points. Important shot there to keep a little pressure on the U.S.

9:03, 2nd: Dwight Howard commits an unsportsmanlike foul on Pau Gasol. That's two foul shots and possession, but Gasol misses both and Spain gives it away on the possession. The turnover ends up getting deflected upcourt to Kobe Bryant in stride, who dunks it home to open a 43-31 lead.

9:33, 2nd: Kobe Bryant, back into the game, drains a three-pointer to put the U.S. team ahead 41-31. The Americans have made 4-of-5 shots from beyond the arc so far.

End, 1st: Wade gets a quick steal and almost throws down a dunk at the first-quarter buzzer but the ball slips out of his hands and out of bounds. That's it for this frenetic first quarter!

0:09.0, 1st: Wade calmly sinks a three-pointer to open the Team USA lead to 38-31. Spain's got to be encouraged by their production in the first quarter but this tempo plays right into the Redeem Team's hands. 

1:10, 1st: ... Dwayne Wade draws a ticky-tack foul on Berni Rodriguez just seconds later and sinks a pair of free throws to open it back up to six points. Wade's contributed 10 points off the bench already.

1:15, 1st: Marc Gasol gets a quick bucket for Spain to cut the lead to four points ... 

1:22, 1st: Bosh puts the United States up six points with a tip-in. The U.S. is starting to look better after a flat-footed start.

3:06, 1st: Spain shows a zone defense for the first time today and Raul Lopez is whistled for a blocking foul with just four seconds left on the shot-clock. That's his third personal and he'll head to the bench. Not a good sign for a Spain team already thin at point guard thanks to Jose Calderon's absence.

3:44, 1st: Bosh hits a pair of free throws for Team USA to knot the score at 22 apiece. 

4:10, 1st: Chris Paul dribbles the length of the court, hangs in the air while drawing a foul and converts the lay-up. Another old-fashioned three-point play. This one closes Spain's lead to 22-20. 

4:49, 1st: Berni Rodriguez grabs an offensive rebound far beneath his goal and deposits a nifty lay-in to open the Spain lead to 21-17.

5:45, 1st: Wade makes an immediate impact, driving the lane and converting a lay-up while drawing the foul on Felipe Reyes. Wade hits from the line to pull the U.S. within 15-14.

6:20, 1st: Kobe picks up his second foul, hacking Juan Carlos Navarro beyond the arc. Navarro converts the fouls to give Spain a 13-9 lead, matching Team USA's largest deficit of the tourney. LeBron and Kobe head to the bench while Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade enter the game.

7:47, 1st: LeBron just picked up his second personal foul but convinces Mike Krzysewski to keep him in the game.

8:22, 1st: Spain captializes on a sloppy U.S. fast break, converting a fast break of their own into points with a Pau Gasol dunk. Spain takes its first lead at 5-4. 

8:40, 1st: The U.S. is really pressuring early, but they've picked up a pair of team fouls already -- one for LeBron and one for Kobe.

9:16, 1st: Pau Gasol answers with three the hard way, drawing the foul on LeBron, making the shot and converting the free throw. 

9:34, 1st: LeBron James opens the scoring with a three-pointer. 

10:00, 1st: No surprises in Team USA's starting five as Mike Krzyzewski sticks with the same opening combination he's dialed up in the previous seven victories: It's Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard wearing the blues for Team USA. For Spain, it's Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Carlos Jimenez, Felipe Reyes and Pau Gasol wearing white.

* * * 

Put the Spanish players on a court with any other team on the planet and they're favorites. But against the United States in today's gold medal match, they're three-touchdown underdogs. Overmatched and undermanned, Spain is the ultimate Cinderella. Problem is -- from where I'm sitting anyway -- midnight's already struck.

Congrats to Argentina for winning the bronze medal with a convincing 87-75 victory over Lithuania [BOX SCORE]. 

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  • 06:23 PM ET  08.23

The last time the United States played in the final of a major international tournament, Bill Clinton was president and MySpace was a congested college dorm room.

But after a long, humbling eight-year wait, Team USA has returned to the brink of global hoop supremacy. And on Sunday afternoon in Beijing -- and in the wee hours of Sunday morning in the U.S. -- the Redeem Team takes on Spain for the gold medal.

N.B. Tip-off is 2:30 a.m. ET, and we'll be running a live blog in this space.

Most expect an American coronation. It's difficult to augur otherwise after watching Team USA's thorough dismantling of Spain during the group stage -- a slightly excessive 119-82 pasting aimed at demoralizing the reigning world champs. Bookmakers have installed the Americans as 21-and-a-half-point favorites. (Such an overwhelming number, one wonders if they're calling this the silver medal game in Spain. Zing!) And with good reason: The U.S. team has stormed virtually unmolested to the Olympic final, winning its seven games by an average margin of 31.9 points.

New York Times hoop scribe Pete Thamel has described nitpicking Team USA's flaws as "trying to find pimples on the Mona Lisa." And there's a lot of truth to that. But no team is unbeatable -- just ask the slack-jawed U.S. softball squad -- and Spain is certainly no patsy. With seven current or former NBA players in the fold, the Spanish are deep, talented and experienced enough to give the Redeem Team a spirited challenge.

So with the gold medal match looming, here are five reasons why Spain could win the Olympic final … and five reasons why the United States most definitely should:

WHY SPAIN COULD WIN

Saturday's margin may be misleading. No one doubts the U.S. is the better team by any measure. But 31 points better? Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the U.S. bench, doesn't think so. The Syracuse coach called Team USA's margin of victory "deceptive" during an interview Monday on the Dan Patrick Show, citing the tendency of European teams to shut down during group play when the lead has ballooned out of reach.

They've got talent. So did the Albiceleste, right? But Argentina's rotation is a kiddie pool compared to Spain's deep stable. As mentioned, they've got seven players with NBA ties and an eighth -- the youngster Rubio -- who's been hailed as a once-in-a-generation kind of European talent. The rest of the roster is laden with reliable, veteran Spanish League foot soldiers.

They won't get creamed on the boards. Spain is one of the few teams in Beijing capable of contending with the United States on the glass. In fact, they're one of two teams to beat Team USA on the boards during the tourney, staking a 39-36 rebounding advantage in last Saturday's game.

It's basketball. As the traditional West Baltimore saying goes: It's all in the game. Basketball's a funny sport. Seedings tend to hold in a seven-game series. But in a one-off, anything can happen.

Something in the water? It's been some kind of summer for Spanish sports. First, the soccer team sheds its reputation as a perennial underachiever and wins its first European Championship since 1964. Next, Carlos Sastre overcomes a modest start to win the Tour de France. Last week, Rafael Nadal wins Olympic gold and overtakes Roger Federer atop the ATP rankings on consecutive days, adding to his recent French Open and Wimbledon titles. The definitive upset of these games -- Miracle on Cedar? -- would provide appropriate punctuation to a memorable couple of months on the Iberian peninsula.

WHY THE U.S. SHOULD WIN

Spain has nothing resembling a psychological edge. Sure, the Spanish are reigning world champions, but they won the '06 FIBA World Championship without having to face the Americans (who bowed to Greece on the opposite side of the bracket). Unlike Argentina, Spain has never beaten the United States in a game of significance. It's lone victory over the U.S. since FIBA allowed USA Basketball to enlist pro players came in the fifth-place game of the '02 FIBA Worlds. When the teams met in Olympic quarterfinals four years ago, Team USA spoiled Spain's perfect record in group play with a 102-94 victory.

No way, Jose? Spanish floor general Jose Calderon is doubtful after suffering a partial tear in his adductor muscle against Croatia in the quarterfinals, meaning point duties fall exclusively to Raul Lopez and Ricky Rubio. Both buckled badly against the U.S. last Saturday.

Spain's ongoing arc issues. To keep pace with Team USA's high-octane offense, you'd think a team would need to knock down about a dozen three-pointers. But no team in Beijing has shot the longball worse than Spain. (Not even the U.S.!) They've made just 45-of-151 shots from beyond the arc -- a frigid 29.8 percent clip. That's worse than Angola (33.3), Iran (32.7) and China (30.4).

Too many horses on the U.S. bench. Eight different U.S. players logged double figures last Saturday when the teams met in group play. Spain is deep but Team USA is something different all together, a dynamic unit capable of peeling off a game-breaking run at any given moment. 

This is Team USA's year. Every inkling of evidence leads to this conclusion. The Redeem Team has made almost two-thirds of its shots from the floor. Most importantly, the Americans have demonstrated a tendency to play up to stronger competition. (Angola was their closest game of the group stage, but they hung 119 points on Spain and won going away.) And before the semifinal against Argentina ended up being a somewhat close game, Team USA put them to the canvas with 18 unanswered points in the first quarter. This gold medal's been a long time coming for USA Basketball and I just can't see Spain spoiling the party with an upset in the final reel. Look for LeBron, Kobe and Wade to fill it up from the wings as Team USA ends its redemption song on the highest possible note.
Prediction: United States 111, Spain 86

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  • 09:52 AM ET  08.22

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.

* * *

 

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.

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