After a nip-and-tuck first half with Argentina, the U.S. came out for the third quarter and more or less destroyed Argentina.
First evidence: the U.S. outscored their Latin American rivals 42-17.
Second evidence: the Americans were apparently incensed by the physical nature of the game. So you had several points of contention.
The Argentine side thought Chris Paul slugged Facundo Campazzo in the third quarter; the Americans claim Campazzo hit Carmelo Anthony in the one spot men dread being hit in more than all others combined.
How much did the physical nature of the game fire up the Yanks? Hard to say, but the third quarter explosion speaks for itself, and anyone who follows Duke basketball closely has a very good idea of just how Mike Kryzyzewski reacts to attempts at intimidation.
This reminds of one of the funniest things (in a sense anyway; Coach K wouldn't have found it funny) we've ever seen in Cameron: when the late Robert "Tractor" Traylor came to town with Michigan, the game was on the line in the closing minutes. Traylor caught the ball and drove straight down the lane - and every Blue Devil headed for the hills. No one was going to stand in front of that guy.
No doubt that disgusted Krzyzewski; we're reasonably sure he wasn't pleased with the first half defense in this game, either.
So in the lockerroom, he stressed defense, and he also urged LeBron James to take control.
Which he did, in short order, and not just offensively.
James put huge pressure on Argentina on both ends of the court. He scored nine quick points to push the U.S. ahead.
And about that time, Kevin Durant decided it'd be a nice time to turn things up a notch or two as well.
Durant hit 8-10 from three point range including five straight in the third.
It wasn't too long before the Argentine coach, recognizing a lost cause, benched his starters to rest them for the medal round.
The U.S. will clearly want to work on consistent defense and avoiding slow starts, but the one-two punch of James and Durant is devastating - and keep in mind that Carmelo Anthony, who has been hot in earlier games, played just 12 minutes this time, scoring five points.
In the end, though the Argentinians fought furiously to compensate and avoid it, age caught up to them. They tried to push the younger Americans around and to get them to lose their composure. Younger legs and better talent, not to mention better coaching, prevailed.
So as we move to the medal round, there are just eight teams left: on one side of the bracket, Russia will play their former vassal state Lithuania and neighbors France and Spain will tangle.
On the other, Latin American neighbors Brazil and Argentina will go at it while the U.S. will take on Australia.
Australia is a program which has improved a great deal in recent years. They boast two solid NBA players in Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut, and a number of other guys who are just a step below that level. As Lithuania showed, that's enough to be within shouting distance.
Actually, a correction: Bogut is not with the team.
Assuming the U.S. wins, they may well get a rematch with the Argentines. If they do win both of those games, they'll be in the gold medal game.
One would typically favor Spain to make the finals, but after Pau Gasol's frustration with his teammates boiled over into public criticism (irritated that his mates aren't playing hard), who knows?
It's entirely possible that the U.S. will have to beat both Argentina and the Lithuanians again.
Now there's a story line!