After a few closer-than-expected victories over Australia, Serbia, and France, Team USA will face off against Argentina tonight to begin their march toward an expected gold medal in Rio. We are going to preview tonight’s game and list a few keys to look out for.
Back in 2004, Team USA was made up of NBA players that were thrown together with no strategy on who would fill what role. Sure, you had the current all-stars such as Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, and Shawn Marion mixed with the young and future NBA superstars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, but the team never really found its way.
Team USA played exactly the way they were put together: sloppy and unorganized. Off of pure talent and athleticism, Team USA managed to make it to the semi-final round at the 2004 games and faced off with … Argentina.
That year Argentina was the exact opposite of Team USA. They had Spurs guard Manu Ginobili leading the charge for the team, which included NBA players such as Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, and Fabricio Oberto. They had all played together for years and it showed immediately. Argentina defeated the US 89 – 81 and went on to defeat Italy and win the gold medal.
It was because of this Olympics disaster that the Men’s USA Basketball program went through a total overhaul with players now begging to play so the USA could regain the gold. The 2008 “Redeem Team,” featuring James, Wade, and Anthony, was born and Team USA has captured gold in every international tournament they have played in since then.
Fast-forward to 2016, Team USA has won the past two Olympic games gold medals and is the favorite for a third straight gold in Rio, but it has been far from easy. Early on, Team USA looked unstoppable and some watchers even wondered if this team was better than the 2012 Olympic team of NBA players. We now know the answer to that argument, which is a resounding “no.” This current version of Team USA, while talented, has a few holes that other countries are starting to exploit.
For example, while Kyrie Irving is an offensive juggernaut playing for the newly crowned NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, his defense during these Olympic Games has been awful. Opposing guards are going right at Irving and causing the big men of Team USA to get into foul trouble protecting the rim after the guards blow past Irving. However, these issues are somewhat correctable and Team USA will look to impose its will early on.
Argentina, on the other hand, is now a different, older team than when they won the gold in 2004. They also experience a steep drop-off any time Ginobili comes out of the game. This Argentina team can be dangerous and are still one of the better teams in the world. However, with a renewed focus on winning the gold and saving themselves from embarrassment, the collection of talent that is Team USA will be too much for an aging Argentina team to handle. USA wins 98-78
Storylines To Watch
Can Team USA regain the momentum they had coming into Rio? These two teams played an exhibition game before heading to the Olympics and Team USA crushed Argentina by 35. The game was never in doubt and the Argentinian players and coaches openly wondered whether Team USA would even play a close game in the Rio Olympics.
Will the real Kevin Durant finally show up to play?
KD hasn’t played well yet in Rio, but to win the gold, Team USA will need for the “real” KD to show up and ball out. Durant has had a very eventful summer so far with him leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors, and one has to wonder if that is weighing on his mind.
Players Who Will Be The X-Factor For Team USA
Klay Thompson and Paul George. The star of the Argentina team is Ginobili and whoever is matched up against him will have to make sure they know where he is at all times on the floor. Once Ginobili starts catching fire, Argentina feeds off of him and are hard to beat. While Team USA has struggled a bit in the Olympics so far, a few of the bright spots have been the play by George in the early round games versus China and Venezuela, and Thompson putting up 30 points to lead Team USA past France in a very close 100 – 97 victory.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty