A Rivalry Renewed: U.S. And Argentina Set To Face Off … One Last Time?

LONDON – After a decade of circling each other, five times in five different tournaments during that span, it comes down to this for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their counterparts from Argentina.

Only one of them will play for a gold medal here Sunday in the Olympics.

And whoever gets that chance will have to go through their bitter rival in the semifinals Friday afternoon (4 p.m. ET) at North Greenwich Arena.

It’s a fitting crossroads for the two programs. After all, Argentina is the outfit that shocked the USA Basketball system a decade ago at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, shattering a previous decade of domination by NBA players on the national team rosters by embarrassing that team on home soil.

They’re reaffirmed the initial blow two years later by going through the U.S. Team in the semifinals on the way to gold in the Athens Olympics. That death-blow jolted USA Basketball into a complete reorganization of the program that saw both managing director and chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski come on board.

When the U.S. finally returned the favor in Beijing four years ago, finishing off Argentina in the semifinals on the way to Olympic gold, it was clear both sides would spend the next four years pining for a moment like the one that is upon them now.

Argentina’s aging core group, led by Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino, is believed to be making this one last stand together. The instigators of a basketball revolution in their native land, this could very well be the last time they take the floor together in Olympic competition.

“We know who those guys are,” said Ginobili, Argentina’s fearless leader. “We are not intimidated when we play against them.”

That fact only adds to the intrigue for the core of the U.S. Team, guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and even Kevin Durant.

They’d love to put the Argentina chapter of USA Basketball’s history to rest.

“Why not? Why not?” Anthony said without so much as a whiff of cockiness in his voice. “We have to play them. Something has to happen. Why not end it [now]?”

A legacy will be impacted by this game, one way or another, an era ended or extended at the hands of a most bitter of rivals.

It’s a level of drama that was evident in the lead up to this game, which included a tight-at-the-finish exhibition game in Barcelona July 22 and a second-half runaway for the U.S. Monday night in the final game of pool play for both teams.

In addition to their past successes against the U.S., Argentina’s had time to get used to this particular U.S. Team — which includes Durant and six other Olympic rookies — over the past three weeks. If there is any advantage to be had, Argentina would appear to have jotted down enough notes in that time to have a plan to slow down a team that is smashing opponents by an average of nearly 40 points per game during this tournament.

“We know we’re not going to beat them trying to outscore them,” Scola said after Argentina played the U.S. nearly even Monday night, trailing 60-59 at halftime, before losing 126-97. “We’re not going to beat them scoring 120 points. If you keep asking me I will tell you the same every time, we’re not going to beat them trying to score 120 points. That’s not who we are. That’s now how we play. Hold them to 90 points, maybe 85, then you have the sort of game where we can do what we do and execute our game plan.”

It’s worked before, slowing the game down and controlling the tempo, which negates the U.S. Team’s ability to get out in transition and open the floor up for easy baskets and deadly 3-point assaults that  have become their hallmark during this tournament. Lithuania did it during pool play and only lost by five points to the U.S.

And Argentina has used that same formula to perfection in the past. They beat the U.S. 87-80 in the 2002 World Championship and 89-81 in the 2004 Olympics.

James praised this current Argentina team for doing the same things they did in every instance of success against the U.S., for sticking to who and what they are not matter the circumstance.

“First of all, they are a team. First,” he said. “They work together well, been together for a long time and they’re a team that’s won a gold medal before in 2004. So they’ve been in big games and they play together. We know that and we understand that we’re going to have to talk and communicate and help each other on the defensive end, and then offensively, we have to share the ball. We do that and we’ll put ourselves in a position to win.”

They’ll have to do that and manage the emotions that come with one of the most heated rivalries in these Summer Games. Monday night’s game was marred by low-blows being thrown by point guards Chris Paul (accused) and Facundo Campazzo (admitted, on Anthony) and the requisite pushing and shoving you’d expect from players on teams used to being on the medal stand when the flags are raised at the end of the tournament.

U.S Teams of the past, certainly in 2002 and 2004, might not have respected the no-fear factor involved in the game from the Argentinean side.

They do now.

“We already know what to expect as far as the intensity,” Anthony said. “They’re going to bring it. For a lot of them guys, there is the possibility that this could be their last game together internationally. We know the energy level they’re going to bring, the intensity level they’re going to bring. We know what’s at stake. This is one of the biggest games we’ve ever played. We know that. But at the end of the day, it’s not about Xs and Os. It’s about who wants it the most.”

Both sides believe in their cause.

We’ll find out soon whose will is stronger … this one last time!

18 Comments

  1. ESPANA GOLD MEDAL CHAMPIONS OLYMPIC BASKETBALL!!!! says:

    ESPANA has tools to BEAT TEAM USA/TEAM LUCK SHOT 3-POINTER because they have Caulderon and Navarro and they are good. not lucky 3 point shooter of USA named Durant and Anthony. Look how they shoot bads against Lithuania. They will shoots bad against ESPANA then ESPANA beats them with BIG MENS Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol plus Serge Ibaka. Plus Team USA lost Russell Westbrook. Without him they are not as strongs and ESPANA will have EASY time scoring.

    When Espana wins, do not comes here and talk to make excuses for TEAM USA winning. TEAM USA EXCUSES Like say

    1) Oh, we did not play well that day.

    2) the FIBA referee was not good like in NBA they protect us

    3) We beat ourselves and make ourselves lose.

    4) We not luckys on that day so our LUCKY 3-POINT SHOT not go in

    NO. SILLY EXCUSES BY AMERICANS. It will be funny to read them here after the game. The REAL REASON why you lose to ESPANA

    ESPANA IS SUPERIOR BASKETBALL NATION TO YOU!

    CONGRATS TO ESPANA FOR WINNING 2012 GOLD MEDAL IN BASKETBALL!!!

  2. tenby says:

    It is time for Argentina to re-build after Olympics. Same goes for China.

  3. Supreme Team says:

    Say what you say, the scoreboard will show who is the elite. TOO many weapons on our squad and all our guys are competitors who refuse to loose to a bunch of reserve NBA players from Argentina. USA by 30+

    • emi_argentina says:

      ginobili is a bunch of reserve in nba???????????????????????????????? lol im sorry dude i had to tell u U R SO WRONG, he had 3 nba champinship whit the spurs in a very very important roll tell that to coach pop.. sorry but lebron has only 1 and how many has durant?? lol

  4. Michael says:

    I see some countries dream about gold medal, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about gold medal.
    USA has 39 gold medals so far, and the 40′s will be from basketball game !!!
    All team USA players are the best players in the entire world !

  5. Matias says:

    I hope to watch a great game!!USA is better than argentina,but i know that mi team is gonna leave everithing on the floor!I spect a scratchy game but whit respect!greedings from argentina!!

    PD: sorry mi english jaja(haha)!!

  6. Capt. Mac says:

    USA by 25. They won’t play around this time.

  7. USA WILL NOT WIN GOLD says:

    Even if USA gets lucky with their 3-point luck shots and beat Argentina (they will not and if they do ONLY BY LUCK), USA WILL LOSE IN GOLD MEDAL GAME.

    I keeps saying REAL GOLD MEDAL GAME is played betweens Russia vs. Spain. Winner of that game will be GOLD MEDAL CHAMPION. And the loser of that game will beats USA in BRONZE MEDAL GAME.

    USA WILL GO HOME WITH NO MEDAL!

  8. People from argentina says:

    VAN A TENER QUE JUGAR AL 100% PARA GANARNOS, ESTE EQUIPO TIENE MUCHO MAS CORAZON Y ESO SOBREPASA EL TALENTO DE QUIEN SEA

  9. zgillet says:

    The way he is shooting, Carmelo could probably score 80 by himself if they gave him the chance.

  10. emi_argentina says:

    great blog !! is true it is one last time, argentina will never be the same whitout this amazing players, THE GOLDEN GENERATION IS GOING FOR THEIR LAST BIG TOURNAMENT TOGHETER AND THEY R PUT THEIR HEART IN THE FLOOR TO TRY TO WIN THIS GAME is never easy whit usa but is not impossible..

  11. knickfan212 says:

    You might bite a few fingernails but in the end it’s USA by 20.

  12. Thems brave words Manu says:

    ““We know who those guys are, we are not intimidated when we play against them.” But it doesn’t matter whether you’re intimidated or not … it’s whether you can stay with Team USA on the score board. Ahh, now that’s a different story altogether. My prediction: Team USA by 10-15 (if) in a re-match.

    • milesfan says:

      agree with your statement…I find it interesting that Argentina seems to woof a lot whereas the current USA players give respect and credit but our media wants to project something different (particularly Aschburner on this site)…Argentina in my opinion have resorted to the more questionable tactics but all we hear is how Argentina “won’t back down from the US”…time to end this rivalry with a sweet victory today

      • crazy2k says:

        “the more questionable tactics”? Just because Campazzo (a 21 year old, with little international experience) did something stupid hitting Melo? Or because Scola smashed the ball one time? That kind of stuff happens a lot in basketball, and in NBA too. It’s not a tactic. It’s the kind of stuff that happens when the game is played with intensity and some player makes a mistake.

      • rich says:

        What do you want Argentina to say – that they’re going to lose ? And do you honestly think for one second that the US players actually believe what they’re saying about Argentina being a great team as if they are a threat ? Truth is it’s hard to get satisfied with US blowing other teams out – because that’s what they’re expected and suppose to do.