LONDON – Kevin Durant scored 19 points and LeBron James added 18 to lead the United States team of NBA stars over Argentina 109-83 on Friday and into the Olympic men’s basketball gold medal final against Spain.
The Americans booked a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final and reached the gold medal game for the 15th time in 17 attempts, having missed out in 1988 and 2004 and skipped the 1980 Moscow Olympics in a boycott.
The US men, who also had 18 points from Carmelo Anthony, seek their 14th gold medal against a Spanish side filled with NBA standouts, one that battled the US to the end before falling 118-107 in the 2008 Beijing final.
Spain defeated Russia 67-59 in Friday’s other semi-final. Argentina will play Russia on Sunday for the bronze medal.
Argentina ousted the US squad in a 2004 Athens Olympics semi-final on the way to capturing gold but the Americans returned the favour in Beijing.
The US team improved to 61-1 since settling from bronze at the 2004 Olympics and revamping the national team program with Mike Krzyzewski as coach.
The US NBA multi-millionaires had defeated Argentina 126-97 in a preliminary group match four days earlier, a physical contest in which Carmelo Anthony was hit in the groin while shooting by Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo.
While there were a few physical fouls, there was no sign of such antics this time around.
NBA San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili, who led Argentina with 18 points, sank a 3-pointer at the half-time buzzer and another to open the third quarter as part of a 14-6 Argentina run to pull the South Americans within 47-43 just 21 seconds into the second half.
Reigning NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant sank two 3-pointers in a 8-0 US run to give the NBA stars a 59-46 edge, their largest of the game to that point, before Argentina fought back within 59-51.
That’s when LeBron James drove to the basket, leaped high into the air and slammed in a dunk that produced a roar from the sellout crowd of 20,000 and touched off a 13-2 US run that separated the US stars from Argentina for good.
Durant had back-to-back 3-pointers and James added five more points in the key span, which left the Americans on top 72-53 and Argentina never threatened again.
Kobe Bryant scored eight points in a 15-2 US run that produced an 18-6 lead for the Americans only 4:19 into the game, the Los Angeles Lakers star guard sinking a 3-pointer to conclude the streak.
Argentina answered by scoring 11 of the next 12 points to pull within 19-17 but James sparked a 17-8 US run early in the second quarter, scoring nine points including a 3-point play to push the early US edge to 41-29.