LONDON – The US Olympic Dream Team took a blow and responded with a blowout, answering a “cheap shot” with a scoring blitz Monday in a 126-97 rout of Argentina to remain unbeaten entering the basketball medal playoffs.
Kevin Durant scored 17 of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter after an Argentine side that had come within 86-80 of the Americans in a pre-Olympic tuneup game last month stayed within 60-59 of them at half-time.
But Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo made the mistake of angering the NBA stars, bumping Carmelo Anthony in the groin as the New York Knicks playmaker was shooting late in the third quarter.
“It was more than a tap. It was a cheap shot,” Anthony said. “I’m fine. I’m cool. He did what he did. It is what it is. You come down in transition and you’re wide open and for somebody to do that.”
Campazzo said the hit was unintentional but claimed US guard Chris Paul had delivered the first blow by shoving him.
“Before that foul, Chris Paul punched me, but it was part of the game,” said Campazzo. “I have no problems with that but I didn’t retaliate or anything like that. I didn’t hit Carmelo on purpose.
“I apologised for the confusion, but as I said, it’s all part of the game. It all ends there.”
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant accepted Campazzo’s apology but also sent him a warning.
“It was inappropriate,” Bryant said. “‘You know you don’t do that,’” Bryant told Campazzo.
“And he said ‘I know’. He knows he was wrong. He socked Carmelo in the nuts when he was shooting the ball. You can’t do that.
“To his credit, he said ‘it was my fault’ and that was it.”
The Americans kept stretching the margin as large as the final score, a sign that not all was forgiven.
“It gave us a lift. It got us going,” Bryant said. “KD got hot. But it all started from that.”
Durant didn’t mind his side sending a message on the scoreboard and with some physical play of its own.
“You kind of want to send a message a little bit,” Durant said. “This has been the second game in a row that team played as close. We got a lot of team confidence with that but we don’t want to get cocky.”
US big man Tyson Chandler said the entire team was angry after Campazzo’s blow to Anthony.
“We all saw it. That was a cheap shot,” Chandler said. “He hit him in an area you don’t want to get hit in. This is the Olympics. You don’t want to see that. Your natural reaction is to protect your teammates.
“We calmed down, got our heads about us. But we were already fired up.”
The result completed the entire medal playoff pairings, which will see the Americans face Argentina or Brazil in the semi-finals if they defeat the Aussie Boomers, who knocked Russia from the ranks of the unbeaten earlier on Monday.
In the other half of the playoff bracket, reigning European champion Spain will face France in one quarter-final while Russia will meet Lithuania in the other. Semi-finals are on Friday with gold and bronze medal games on Sunday.
LeBron James finished with 18 points and Paul added 17 for the US NBA stars while NBA San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobli led Argentina with 16 points.