USA v Argentina
The first 3 quarters were not convincing for team USA, but they got it done down the stretch against Australia. Kobe Bryant hasn’t really needed to carry a scoring load so far, but the Black Mamba definitely showed the fangs last night. Bryant hit 6 3-pointers, as team USA made the push and ended up blowing out Australia. This team continued making history, as LeBron James recorded the first triple-double in U.S Olympic history, as he scored 11 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 12 assists.
Only 3 days ago USA rolled over Argentina in the group stage, winning by 29 points. Much like other opponents, Argentina was able to keep up for 2-3 quarters, but ran out of gas later on in the game. That has pretty much been the way that team USA has played so far. They have more depth than any other team in the tournament, and are playing a high-paced game that wears opponents down over the course of a game.
Argentina beat a formidable opponent in Brazil to get to the semi-finals, with Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino leading the way. It is hard to believe that Argentina would be able to hang on for more than 3 quarters against USA. Ginobili and Scola are good enough to keep the Argentinians in the game over a couple of quarters, but it would take a miracle for them to pull off an upset. There is one thing that could perhaps be in Argentina’s favor. During the course of these Olympics team USA has grown to live by the 3-point shot, putting up around 40 threes a game. In the game against Lithuania the 3-ball wasn’t going down, and USA struggled until LeBron James decided to take the ball to the basket and take over. Argentina simply has to pray that USA’s shooters (and there are a lot of them) have an off day, while making the most of their opportunities throughout the game.
Spain v Russia
For a long time it was looking like the reigning European champions might leave the tournament earlier than expected. After trailing for 3-quarters, Spain locked down defensively and only allowed France to score 6 points in the 4th quarter, and won a highly emotional game. You could spot the frustration in the French players, as Ronny Turiaf committed a flagrant foul on Rudy Fernandez with around 2 minutes to go. Nicolas Batum followed it up, as he, clearly intentionally, hit Navarro hard across the arm, receiving another flagrant foul. Following the game Batum told the media he didn’t regret doing what he did, and once again pointed out how disgraceful it was for Spain to intentionally lose to Brazil in the group stage, to avoid USA in the semi-finals. He later apologized for his acts on twitter.
Despite the drama, and somewhat inconsistent play, Spain proved that they were better, and deserve to be in the semi-finals. Pau Gasol only had 10 points in the game, but it was the team-defense that got Spain through, and that is something they will have to lean on going forward.
On the other side we have Russia, who beat Lithuania by 9 points in their quarter-final game. The game was much closer than the score suggests, as Lithuania came back several times, erasing double-digit deficits to a couple of points. As much as Russia deserves credit for the win, it really felt like Lithuania threw the game away.The leaders of Lithuania, Jasikevicius and Kleiza, were absolutely atrocious, as Jasikevicius had 6 turnovers, and clearly cracked under the pressure. Kleiza reportedly had a swollen knee, and only scored 4 points. On Russia’s side we saw Alexey Shved struggle, as he shot 2-12 and missed all of his 4 free-throws.
I am really looking forward to seeing how this game plays out. If Shved can have a better game against Spain, I really like Russia’s chances. Kirilenko has been rather consistent, while other players have shown an ability to step up on both ends of the floor. Mozgov is a force in the paint, while Khryapa, Monia and Fridzon have shown the ability to knock down important shots. Despite a lot of big names, Spain has not played convincingly so far. With the Gasol brothers leading the way, this is promising to be a very interesting game.