Right where the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team always expected to be, in the gold medal game, against the opponent it figured to see again.
“Anything less than this would have been unsatisfying for us,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We believe that we could get here, and we’re here now. We got one game left.”
Kevin Durant scored 19 points, James and Anthony added 18 apiece, and the U.S. turned on its slamming-and-shooting spectacle in the second half to overwhelm Argentina for the second time in five days, 109-83, in the semifinals Friday night.
The U.S. will play Spain on Sunday, a rematch of the Americans’ victory four years ago for the gold medal in Beijing.
“I think it’s only right,” James said. “Everyone said that this is the game they wanted to see. We look forward to it. We’re happy as a team we’re able to be back in this position. We’ve got to defend, we’ve got to rebound, we’ve got to share the ball.”
It’s a daunting challenge for Spain.
The Americans have said they believe this team is better than the ‘08 gold medalists, and they are certainly more potent — with a chance to end up outscoring the original Dream Team in 1992. They have breezed through the London Games, winning by an average of 36 points.
“You have three scorers on this team who get blistering hot if they make two shots in a row,” said Kobe Bryant, playing in his second Olympics. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Spain can’t afford many mistakes.
“They’ve got to play almost a perfect game and they’ve got to force them to play 5-on-5 and not let them run,” said Argentine star Manu Ginobili, who scored 18 points and now will play Russia for the bronze medal on Sunday. “But yeah, yeah, they can be beat. It’s not easy. The odds are not with Spain, but, of course, if you play your best game and they’re not very inspired, you’ve got a shot.”
Argentina, playing the U.S. in the semifinals for the third straight Olympics, hung around until early in the second half, just as it did Monday in the final game of pool play.
And just like that night, the Americans hit them with a wave of dunks and 3-pointers in the third quarter that turned it into a romp.
While not quite as explosive as their 42-17 period in Monday’s 126-97 win, this one had just as many highlights.
Ahead by only four after Ginobili opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, the Americans pulled away with James’ strength and Durant’s shot.
Durant made two 3-pointers in an 8-0 spurt that pushed the lead to 13, and when Argentina got back within eight, the NBA’s MVP and runner-up teamed up to blow it open.
James had a basket and drove for a powerful dunk while being fouled. Durant followed with consecutive 3-pointers, James tipped in a miss, and suddenly the lead was 19, 72-53, with 1:30 left in the period.
“We had a great run in the first half,” Ginobili said. “We started the third very well. And then we blinked.”
It became a runaway in the fourth when Anthony hit three 3-pointers in 42 seconds, the American bench spilling onto the floor as he strutted back to midcourt after the last one made it 93-64.
Otherwise, there was little celebrating for the Americans during or after the game.
The party they want can’t come until Sunday afternoon.
“It’s been a fun ride, but we want to compete on Sunday,” forward Kevin Love said.
The U.S. beat Spain 118-107 in the Beijing final, pulling away after leading by just four with about 2½ minutes left. The Spanish are ranked second in the world behind the Americans, and have much more size with brothers Pau and Marc Gasol.
“We’ll have a difficult challenge with Spain because they’re really big. But they’ll have a challenge with us, too,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.