- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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LONDON -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis of Team USA's 126-97 victory over Argentina on Monday night to wrap up Group A play:
How it happened: Another international team with expert ball and player movement poked holes in Team USA's vaunted defense for a half in the final installment of pool play before LeBron James and Kevin Durant finally dragged the Americans out of their game-and-a-half malaise.
Despite resting Luis Scola for the entire second quarter and resting starting point guard Pablo Prigioni entirely, Argentina found offensive success akin to Lithuania's on Saturday and was down by just a point at the break, with Manu Ginobili needing just five field goal attempts to record 16 points by intermission.
But LeBron hit Argentina with a quick nine points early in the third quarter, followed by a stunning 3 spree from Durant, whose five triples in the period helped Team USA turn a 60-59 halftime edge into a 102-76 runaway heading into the fourth.
The Argentines opted for rest at that point, having surrendered 42 points in the third, creating too big a deficit to overturn. Ginobili didn't score a point in the second half and watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench not far from Scola, giving Argentina a jump on preparations for its quarterfinal meeting Wednesday with Brazil for the likely right to see the Americans again in Friday's final four.
Durant finished with a team-high 28 points, highlighted by 8-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. James (18 points and five assists) and Tyson Chandler each got tagged with a fourth foul in the third quarter, but the offensive eruption ensured that the foul trouble would have no effect. Starting point guard Chris Paul added 17 points for the Americans.
What it means: Only a loss by at least 13 points could have dislodged Team USA from the top spot in Group A. The third-quarter surge instead sends the Americans into the medal round as the only team to navigate group play without a defeat.
Excitement about that achievement, however, was tempered somewhat by Team USA's early inability to impose its defensive will on the Argentineans, just as it failed to do in the Lithuania game.
How much encouragement that will give Brazil or Argentina -- two longtime soccer death rivals about to play for a spot in the Olympic hoop semis -- remains to be seen. As spotty as Team USA's defensive intensity seemed early and as basic as the offense occasionally looks, no one in the tournament has the ability to erupt quite like the Yanks did when they rode James and Durant in that third quarter.
And things certaintly haven't regressed to the point that Australia -- with injured center Andrew Bogut at home -- can realistically give Team USA reason to worry in the quarters. Not even after the Aussies closed group play with an 82-80 upset of previously unbeaten Russia.
Player of the game: Durant's shooting, good for 17 points alone in the third quarter to match Argentina's total for period, was impossible to ignore.
It's really a coin flip with James, given how LeBron got the ball inside to start the second and changed the personality of proceedings, but 8-for-10 shooting from behind the line tends to get your attention.
KD by a hair.
Play of the game: After supplying those momentum-changing nine points at the start of the third, James finally pushed Team USA into a double-digit lead with a dish.
His slick bounce pass on the break to Durant, with Kobe Bryant open on the other wing, led to an easy finish at the rim that got Durant going.
The result? Durant's 3 spree soon followed ... highlighted by a 30-footer with 1:53 left in the third quarter to put Team USA up 93-74.
By the numbers: Team USA allowed 196 points in its victories over Lithuania and Argentina after throttling Nigeria by an American-record 83 points Thursday.
That is a number that has to leave Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski somewhat dismayed, even after a 29-point win against the last team to beat the Americans at the Olympics.