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After slow start, Team USA rebounds to blow out Argentina

Basketball - Olympics: Day 12

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: Kyle Lowry #7 and Kevin Durant #5 of United States react in the second half while taking on Argentina during the Men’s Quarterfinal match on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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After playing below the expectations set for them in wins over Australia, Serbia and France, the U.S. men’s basketball team began knockout round against Argentina looking not only to advance but to also perform better on both ends of the floor.

Things didn’t go as planned at the start however, as Argentina jumped out to a 19-9 lead with point guard Facundo Campazzo getting going early to lead the way. But with Carmelo Anthony getting into early foul trouble and the perimeter defense lacking, Mike Krzyzewski went to a backcourt trio of Kyle Lowry, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. The improved defense sparked by those three, combined with Kevin Durant’s hot shooting, ultimately resulted in a 105-78 U.S. victory.

Next up for the Americans will be Spain, a team playing much better than they were at the start of this competition. Spain has lost to the U.S. in each of the last two Olympic gold medal games.

WATCH: Kevin Durant leads Team USA to men’s basketball semifinals

Durant finished with a game-high 27 points, shooting 9-for-13 from the field and 7-for-9 from beyond the arc. He was one of four players in double figures for the U.S., with Paul George adding 17 points, DeMarcus Cousins 15 and Kyrie Irving 11. But scoring hasn’t been, nor will it be, an issue for the U.S. even with the occasional issue of a lack of ball and player movement. The defense was the problem in those three close victories to end pool play, and the major improvement made there is the big takeaway from Wednesday’s win.

MORE: U.S. knocks off Argentina to advance to semis

Argentina was a good matchup for the U.S. given their lack of a back to the basket post scoring option, but their ability (especially Campazzo) to operate off of ball screens could have been an issue for the U.S. But thanks in large part to Lowry, George and Butler it wasn’t, and their energy on the defensive end of the floor impacted the rest of the team. As a result Argentina shot just 38 percent from the field and 8-for-32 from three, with Luis Scola scoring a team-best 15 points.

Argentina’s loss signals the end of an era for that nation, as Manu Ginobili has played in his final Olympics (Andres Nocioni announced his international retirement following the game). Ginobili was given a curtain call in the game’s final minutes, with fans, teammates and opponents all showing respect to a man who will certainly be a Hall of Fame inductee down the line. And as far as the U.S. is concerned, they owe a debt of gratitude to the “Golden Generation” of Ginobili, Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola.

Ginobili: “I’ve been so lucky”

USA Basketball’s last Olympic defeat came to Argentina in the semifinals of the 2004 Olympics in Beijing, with that sparking a deep look into the program that ultimately resulted in the hiring of Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski.

The U.S., now two wins away from a third straight Olympic gold medal, hasn’t lost in Olympic play since.