Players from both sides were knocked down in a closely-fought first half and they often glowered at each other as the contest turned into a rout for the Americans who had narrowly beaten Lithuania in their previous game.
"Tonight's game was so much fun," US point guard Chris Paul said. "I give Argentina a lot of credit.
"Those guys pushed us, they made us compete. I loved it. When it gets a little chippy here and there, it gets you excited," he said after the players frequently collided going for rebounds.
After going to intermission locked in a 60-59 struggle, Argentina were buried under a flurry of three-pointers from Kevin Durant.
Durant, who made 8-of-10 three-pointers in the game, nailed four from beyond the arc in a third-quarter stretch that took the US lead from 12 points to 24.
The quarter ended with more physical combat as Carmelo Anthony hit the floor doubled up in pain after making a three-pointer to send the Americans into the fourth session with a 102-76 advantage.
"He got hit in the groin. That's why he buckled. He wasn't celebrating his shot," said coach Mike Krzyzewski.
It seemed a fight might break out at that point as several players from both teams approached each other near mid-court before being separated.
Argentina won the gold medal in 2004 and are the only nation apart from the US to win the Olympic title since the triumphant American 'Dream Team' was launched at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
"It went very well for the first half and then it got physical in the second," said Argentina coach Julio Lamas who was without starting point guard Pablo Prigioni.
"(To beat) the US we really needed to play a very good game, a perfect game really."
Early in the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook was given a technical foul for taunting an Argentine player after slamming a dunk through a basket.
After that the game carried on to a peaceful finish.
Durant led the Americans with 28 points. James added 18 while Ginobili scored 16 points as Argentina's high scorer.
"Chippiness is chippiness," said Krzyzewski. "Guys want to win and they play hard.
"That's part of competition. I didn't think our guys or theirs did anything that would be below Olympic standards.
"In fact I thought it was a heck of a game."
The win helped the Americans complete a 5-0 record in Group A and they now face Australia (3-2) in Wednesday's quarter-finals.
Argentina (3-2) next meet arch-rivals Brazil (4-1) while Group B winners Russia (4-1) play Lithuania (2-3) and France (4-1) take on Spain (3-2).
Leandro Barbosa sparked a fourth-quarter comeback to lead Brazil to an 88-82 victory over Spain.
Led by Pau Gasol, who scored 25 points in the game, Spain led by nine points after the first quarter and were still ahead by nine at the start of the fourth quarter.
Barbosa scored eight unanswered points including back-to-back three-pointers to lift Brazil into a 75-75 tie with 4:15 left in the game.
A 9-1 run from that point by the athletic Brazilians put them firmly in control.
Barbosa, who plays for the NBA's Toronto Raptors, led Brazil with 23 points.
The late fade prompted a flood of questions from reporters about whether Spain had put in a full effort, a notion dismissed by Gasol.
"We had great stretches where we dominated. And then there's stretches where we're nowhere," said a disgruntled Gasol, who has won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.
It marked the second successive game that the 2008 silver medallists have lost control of a game down the stretch after falling in a fight for the group's top-seeding against Russia.
"With the way we're playing right now anyone can beat us," Gasol said. "We have to be consistent, to play 40 minutes with the same intensity."
Lithuania clinched the last berth in the quarter-finals with a flurry of three-pointers that helped them overtake Tunisia 76-63.
The victory lifted Lithuania, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, to a 2-3 record and the fourth seed place in Group A, setting up a quarter-final showdown against Russia on Wednesday.
The gritty Tunisia team could have given themselves a chance to reach the quarters in their first Olympics with a victory but they finished the five-game preliminary round without a win.
Lithuania had given the powerful US team a scare in their previous game but struggled against the African champions before making a 9-1 run at the end of the third quarter to narrow their deficit to 54-50.
A three-pointer by Simas Jasaitis pulled them within one point and a three-point play by Darius Songaila at the end of a fast break put Lithuania ahead 63 seconds into the final quarter.
Back-to-back three-point daggers from Renaldas Seibutis placed Lithuania firmly in the lead during a 9-0 spurt that sent them on their way to the quarter-finals.
Sarunas Jasikevicius and Songaila shared scoring honours for the winners with 13 points each, while Amine Rzig paced Tunisia with 17 points.
In the opening game of the session, a three-point shot by Patrick Mills at the buzzer lifted Australia to an 82-80 victory over Russia.
The thrilling finish, however, had no bearing on the seedings as Russia (4-1) had already clinched the top seeding in Group B, while Australia (2-3) were set as fourth seeds.
Australia's Joe Ingles scored 20 points, and Sasha Kaun registered 18 for Russia as the game's top scorers.
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