July 22, 2012; Barcelona, SPAIN; USA guard Kobe Bryant (right) holds the ball away from Argentina player Manu Ginobili (5) during the first half of an exhibition game in preparation for the 2012 London Olympic Games at Palau Sant Jordi. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Argentina passes test, loses to Team USA by six

July 22, 2012; Barcelona, SPAIN; Argentina player Manu Ginobili (5) drives past USA forward LeBron James (6) during the first half of an exhibition game in preparation for the 2012 London Olympic Games at Palau Sant Jordi. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Team USA opened the game with an emphatic message. You don’t belong here. It’s our time, not yours. You could tell because they did not miss anything from the field; the United States converted on their first four shots en route to a 14-1 lead in a mere two minutes of action. While Argentina didn’t give up, the United States prevailed, 86-80, for their fourth consecutive exhibition victory.

Argentina was turned upside down and their rotations exemplified their confusion. They struggled to close out on Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant which eventually opened holes for LeBron James and others to attack the rim.

In a transient attempt to stymie their attack, Argentina utilized a zone — but the difference was negligible; America scored either way. For the entire first quarter, Team USA held a 31-16 advantage, Argentina was stuck between a rock and hard place. It turned into a game of give-and-take though the Americans were the only ones giving and taking.

Their lead was trimmed in the second quarter as Argentina slowed the pace and attacked from the perimeter. The Argentinians escaped with a seven-point deficit; a deficit that was nearly whittled down to three points. Andre Iguodala made an acrobatic block to prevent an otherwise easy attempt for Juan Gutierrez which led to a prime opportunity — a transition possession with Russell Westbrook ahead of the pack. Westbrook finished through the contact, drawing the foul. He missed the ensuing free throw.

Manu Ginobili, maligned with foul trouble for the entire night, scored nine of his 23 points in the third quarter. Ginobili’s outburst didn’t lead to much though. The United States maintained a lead as high as 20 before Argentina slowly chipped away at the deficit again. They cut the lead to 11 points to close the third period.

Without Ginobili for much of the final period, Argentina stood little chance of closing the deficit further. James barreled through the lane and Durant peppered their defense from the perimeter, finishing with a game-high 27 points. It was an onslaught that was as inevitable as it was beautiful.

But, again, Argentina got back into the game quickly. (I’m starting to sound like a broken record.) Ginobili scored five consecutive points and the Americans held a seven-point lead in the final minute of play. Nothing materialized but the result was clear: the Argentinians, who have aged considerably since their last Olympic go-around, won’t lose easily.

Suffice to say, they passed their (preliminary) test. Let’s see how they fare when the competition actually matters.

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