Basketball - Olympic Games

US set up dream Olympic final with Spain

Reigning Olympic champions United States set up a gold medal rematch with Spain by thrashing Argentina 109-83 in the men's basketball tournament on Friday.

 
US set up dream final - Basketball - Olympic GamesReuters
 

Reigning Olympic champions United States set up a mouthwatering gold medal rematch with Spain by thrashing Argentina 109-83 in the men's basketball tournament.

Spain, who beat Russia 67-59 in their semi-final, lost 118-107 to the Americans in a close final at the Beijing Games.

The US and Spain will play on Sunday for the title when Argentina and Russia battle for the bronze medal.

"The final in 2008 was very competitive, very emotional," said Pau Gasol, who led Spain in their semi with 16 points. "We felt we had a good chance and we fought throughout the game.

"We understand it's going to be difficult again. It's a huge opportunity. We are so fortunate that we have our second chance and so it's a matter of going out there and enjoying the moment and competing as hard as you can."

Argentina kept pace with the US team throughout the first half on Friday, as they did in the preliminary round, trailing 47-40 despite falling behind 18-6 early in the game.

After the break, Argentina faded under some relentless offensive firepower. Kevin Durant warmed up from three-point range and poured in four bombs as the US team stretched their lead to 17 points going into the fourth quarter.

"I think we did a good job of starting well and responding to them whenever they made a few runs," said Durant. "When you have guys like we do, that can penetrate, you just have to knock down a few shots and it's easy."

Carmelo Anthony took the baton from Durant and rained threes in the last quarter, sinking four in short order to pad the lead to 93-62 before the US took their foot off the accelerator.

In the first quarter, Kobe Bryant lit up the scoreboard with a series of four threes wrapped around a baseline drive he finished with a reverse dunk.

US coach Mike Krzyzewski said he appreciated the willingness of his players to pass to the team mate with the hot hand.

"We have a battery of weapons," he said about the offensive talent he can roll out on the floor.

"When they see one guy has got it (going), they go to him.

With the scoring capabilities that each of them have, their willingness to focus on the guy they see has it, is gratifying to me. It says something about the kind of guys I'm coaching."

Argentina has been a thorn in the US side over the past decade.

They became the first team to beat a US squad featuring NBA players at the 2002 world championship, and two years later knocked the Americans out in the Olympic semi-finals on the way to claiming gold at the Athens Games.

The US answered by sending Argentina to the bronze game in Beijing and now in London.

"I'm not saying it is impossible to beat them but they are the best team in the world and when they play the way they want to play they usually win," said Argentina coach Julio Lamas.

Durant led the scoring for the US with 19 points, with Anthony and LeBron James adding 18 apiece.

Argentine stalwart Manu Ginobili posted 18 points while Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino registered 15 points each.

Outplayed in the first half, 2008 Beijing silver medallists Spain dominated play over the last 20 minutes, outscoring the Russians 47-28 to come back after a poor first half.

"The first half just didn't flow good for us, it felt like the rim was getting smaller and smaller," Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol told reporters. "We just had to relax and make a few shots to open things up."

It was a different view from the Russian side.

"I thought we played one of our best first halves of basketball ever," said Russia coach David Blatt.

"We had only three turnovers in the first half, playing right, making good decisions and good team actions. In the second half, we got away from that. Give them some credit."

Gasol led Spain with 16 points, while Jose Calderon posted 14 points, all but two of them coming in the second half as he found his touch from the three-point line.

Sasha Kaun was top scorer for Russia with 14 points.

Russia began the game doing their offensive damage inside and then found their shooting touch in the second quarter on a 10-0 run to build a 27-14 lead before finishing the half leading 31-20.

"The first half we took good shots, but in the second we just stopped executing," said Andrei Kirilenko, a former National Basketball Association All-Star, who was slowed by a quadriceps injury.

Spain had a miserable time scoring in the first half, shooting a consistently woeful 21 percent, making 3-of-15 shots in the first quarter and 3-of-14 in the second quarter.

An energised Spanish team hit the floor after the break, playing with more quickness and defensive intensity.

"We had a really good talk in the locker room at halftime," Calderon said.

"In the first half it looked like we wanted to make it to the final with every shot. We just needed to have some patience, maybe. You have to be able to play in these games."

A Calderon three-pointer at the buzzer tied the game 46-46 at the end of the third quarter and European champions Spain continued their revitalised play through to the end to book another appearance in the gold medal game.

"To make it to a second Olympic final running is huge," said Pau Gasol.

Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said, "It's an unbelievable emotion to know you have an Olympic medal. This is something that millions of great sportsmen dream about."

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