Despite Team USA's ultimately impressive 105-78 victory over Argentina, it was Argentina that delivered the first punch, capitalizing on the United States' continued lack of ball movement and porous defense by jumping out to a 19-9 lead. Kevin Durant was the catalyst in the United States reaching those nine points, but Coach K was quick to make a lineup change that included Kyle Lowry, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler as wing defenders.
The move wasn't a surprising one from an x's and o's standpoint; Team USA's top defensive players in their three close wins were Lowry and George:
Over last 3 games, USA defense has only been not terrible when George and/or Lowry are on the floor: pic.twitter.com/gh1FRW34k6— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 16, 2016
Once entering the game, it was George that made the most of shifting the tides, forcing the Argentina offense into a convoluted mess. Team USA closed the quarter on a 16-2 run, ultimately building a 20-0 run that helped Team USA into the driver's seat. When the starters did return, the defense lacked and ball movement disappeared, but Kyrie Irving's play minimized the damage as did growing fatigue for Argentina.
Argentina would climb to within 16 in the third, but wouldn't trim the lead the same way France did in the previous game. But that's, in a large part, because Paul George didn't let it happen. George had 17 points to lead the bench, but it was his defensive effort that changed the face of the game. George had a pair of steals and blocks to go with nine rebounds (four offensive), all leading stats (except for blocks, which Durant had three).
The second unit, comprised of George, Durant, Lowry, Butler, and DeMarcus Cousins was a force. Durant was on fire offensively, scoring 27 and hitting seven of nine three pointers, but he had his best game defensively as well, feeding off the energy from the wing defenders. The offensive struggles of Lowry and Butler were moot in this game, especially with Cousins playing with a renewed energy, though the undersized Argentine front line did little to deter Cousins and his 15 points.
Durant was 7-9 from three point range, which made the rest of Team USA an abysmal 4-24. It didn't help that Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony struggled offensively as well, but it was a real positive to see Coach K make the adjustment away from relying on the talent of Anthony and Kyrie Irving and move to a lineup that played like a team. Team USA will need that as they move forward into the medal round facing a Spain team that has put together four straight wins after losing their first two.
For Argentina, it was a tough loss given it will mark the end of an era for the men's basketball team. Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola each reached double figures with Scola leading the way with 15. Scola in particular was a key part in helping Argentina jump out to their 19-9 lead. Team USA will take the court again on Friday.