If there’s one team that won’t be afraid of Team USA, it’s Luis Scola and the Argentinean men’s national team.
After all, the core of the current Argentina squad knocked the Americans out of the 2004 Olympics in this same semifinal round before triumphing with a gold medal. Two years prior at the 2002 FIBA World Championship a young trio of Ginobili-Scola-Nocioni helped Argentina become the first international team to defeat a US team composed of NBA stars to kick off its Golden Generation era.
Now this summer Argentina has fought the Americans tough in an exhibition nail biter, one of Team USA’s closest games this summer, before the two teams played an even first half Monday in pool play in a game that saw the Americans pull away in the third.
After outlasting Brazil 82-77 in a quarterfinal game Wednesday, Luis Scola and his grizzled veteran teammates will get one final shot at the American squad in a semifinal showdown on Friday at 1 p.m. MST. The winner will move on to the gold medal game against the winner of Spain and Russia, while the loser will play for the bronze.
“We are going to play the Olympic semifinal for the third time in a row,” Scola told The Associated Press. “That’s pretty big for our country. I know some countries have done that in the past, but you’ve got to put it in perspective. This is Argentina. We’ve never done that before and this is the same group that did it the two other times, so it’s emotional for us.”
“We are getting older,” Scola added. “We know we don’t have two more Olympics. We may not have one more. This is a special chance for us.”
Indeed, Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni have teamed with Scola on the Argentinian national team since 2002, and Carlos Delfino joined them for the 2004 Games.
Along with the gold medal in 2004, this quartet also won bronze in 2008 and took the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship over these same Brazilians.
With Ginobili 35 and Scola and Nocioni 32, Friday will likely be the last stand for this proud generation of Argentine basketball against a heavy American favorite.
Argentina rolled to victory over Brazil on the strength of a 14-2 run over the course of five-plus minutes in the middle of the third quarter that resulted in a 61-46 lead with 2:36 left in the third.
Brazil cut the lead to two on a fast-break bucket with 4:21 left and later a triple by former Sun Leandro Barbosa made it a three-point game with 1:45 remaining, but fittingly free throws by Ginobili, Scola, Delfino and Pablo Prigioni sealed the deal.
Scola scored a team-high 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting but he made just 5-of-10 foul shots and grabbed only four rebounds (fewer than Ginobili, Delfino and Nocioni) without dishing an assist.
As has been his forte all Olympics, Scola did, however, draw eight more fouls. He leads the Olympics with 6.8 fouls drawn per game ahead of Yi and Pau Gasol and quietly ranks second among all players in scoring at 19.7 a contest, just behind Australia’s Patty Mills (21.2) and ahead of Ginobili and Pau.
Scola scored an Olympics-low 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting while grabbing a mere three boards on Monday against the Americans. It stands to reason he will need to play much, much better for the Argentines to have a shot at an upset bid.
On paper the Americans possess a much better squad. Team USA’s one weakness — a lack of size — is not something Argentina can exploit with a power forward in Scola playing center and Nocioni playing the four in some small ball lineups for Argentina.
Yet nobody in this tournament has played together so much as a unit as the Argentines, and they truly love competing with each other. You can see it whenever a player delivers a pass in the ideal spot for a hoop and the way the team celebrated together after topping the Brazilians.
As Scola said, they know this could be their final run as a group. Team USA surely should win to cruise to the gold, but the Argentinians possess the kind of spirit and togetherness that has defined many an underdog in the past.
Simmons ‘afraid of the Argentina game’
ESPN’s Bill Simmons attended Wednesday’s quarterfinal quadrupleheader and came away “afraid of the Argentina game'” from a Team USA perspective.
On Argentina’s threat level of taking down the Americans, Simmons wrote:
Only because I love overreacting to this stuff and I’m a naturally fearful person — I’m giving this a 7 out of 10 because Manu won’t be even remotely afraid (and you can’t make those italics italicsy enough), Scola could easily post up anyone on Team USA (even you, Tyson Chandler), Nocioni and Delfino will be playing like it’s Game 7 of the Finals, and they’ve beaten America before. So what if it was eight years ago and we started Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson, two guys who would appear at your house right now on short notice if you offered them $1,000? A win’s a win. I will never, ever, at any point, feel comfortable about playing Argentina with international rules as long as Scola and Ginobili are involved. Screw it, I’m upping this one to a 7.5.
Scola an Olympics standout
ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz praised Scola for being one of the top 10 Olympians in group play:
If Ginobili is the heart of the Argentine team, then Scola is the nervous system, the organ that allows the body to do its thing. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Luis is popping, skying hooks, diving to the rim and finishing. If he can’t find the space he needs, he’ll cleverly draw a foul.
Scola’s performance against Lithuania, when he went off for 32 points and sprinkled in some pretty basketball plays, stands out as one of the best offensive displays of group play.
Paine on Beasley
Basketball-Reference’s Neil Paine listed Michael Beasley among a group of NBA players who face a make-or-break 2012-13 season:
As hard as it is to remember now, there was legitimate debate in the summer of 2008 over whether the Bulls should take Beasley or Derrick Rose with the top overall pick in the draft. Obviously, Chicago made the right call — Rose blossomed into an MVP, while Beasley has struggled to find any rhythm as a pro.
Beasley clearly has a knack for creating shots, but all too often they’ve been low-percentage looks of the dreaded midrange variety. He also compounds that deficiency with tunnel vision and poor rebounding numbers for his size, somewhat of a surprise given his knack for it in college. His problem is that of the classic “tweener” — he still doesn’t have a true position. Although Beasley’s pure offensive skills seem best suited for small forward, historically he’s performed much better on offense while playing power forward. Yet power forward is also a position in which Beasley struggles to match up physically with his counterparts on defense.
The Suns, Beasley’s third team in five years, are hoping they can accomplish something neither the Miami Heat nor Minnesota Timberwolves could do before them: translate Beasley’s raw talent into on-court performance. If they can’t, Beasley probably won’t ever deliver on the promise that once made him the second pick in the draft.
Former Suns scout and assistant director of basketball operations Amin Elhassan joined TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott on TrueHoop TV to talk Steve Nash.