Luis Scola scores 15 as Team USA wears down Argentina in semifinal

This wasn’t pool play, and in that it wasn’t a basketball game to expect a veteran Argentinian squad to lay down in. But in the end, Team USA and its highly-flammable offense would take off, and the wear its defense would place on Luis Scola and company would be too much.

The Americans prevailed to beat Argentina 109-83 on Friday, advancing to the gold medal match in the 2012 London Olympics. In the loss, Scola provided more evidence of what he’ll bring to the Valley of the Sun this season by scoring 15 points on 7-for-15 shooting, meanwhile bringing a toughness that just wasn’t enough to overcome the talent of the USA.

Scola scored the first four points for Argentina in typical Scola fashion. He hit an open 18-foot jumper to get things going, then scored on a high-arching hook shot over Tyson Chandler. Kobe Bryant got the Americans off to a fast start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter as the US pushed the lead to 18-6 before the Argentinians fought back, getting within five points by the end of the first quarter.

Multiple times, the Americans would extend the lead to 11 or 12, but Argentina tried its best to prevent the game from getting out of hand. Of course, that wouldn’t last.

Along with the efforts of Scola and Carlos Delfino, Manu Ginobili’s 18 points kept it close, but the Americans handed off quarterly duties like a relay baton. LeBron James went through his own spurt, a nine-point second quarter, Kevin Durant scored 12 — all on three-pointers — in the third, and Carmelo Anthony went on his own long-range barrage in the front half of the fourth with four threes of his own.

As Ryan Weisert mentioned after Argentina’s win over Nigeria, Scola’s lack of rebounding could be an issue against true NBA power forwards as he ages. His 7.7 career average is impressive and perhaps the lack of a fellow rebounder on Argentina hurts him.

Though both teams played small ball, USA outrebounded Argentina 40-23. Yes, Argentina’s zone defense did it no favors in giving up seven more offensive boards, and the Americans’ athleticism is simply not to be matched. But even with undersized power forwards like Kevin Durant and the like on Scola’s back — there was also another difficult matchup against rebounding guru Kevin Love — Scola finished with only a single rebound on Friday.

But then there are the usual good things you see from Scola.

Despite his lack of explosiveness, he’s a clever pick-and-roll man who always finds himself good angles on the roll for guards to drop a bounce pass his way. Even if the defense rotates, Scola thinks ahead and is quickly able to find the open man on a touch pass for a wide open jumper.

Often, he’d get the hockey assist, as Argentina’s wings and guards did a good job swinging the ball once the US was in rotation. For example, Delfino found success as a shooter on Friday, scoring 15 points (3-for-7 from three-point range).

Scola’s smarts also extended to his post game, where he looked good passing out of the paint. While you won’t expect teams to necessarily double down on Scola, he does do a good job of surveying the floor, freezing the defense — think Marc Gasol — and throwing skip passes to his perimeter teammates.

Scoring 10 of his 15 points in the first half on Friday, Scola’s minutes (29) were heavier than we saw in the first two meetings against the Red, White and Blue. Most of his points came within the offense. Post-ups — in which he often gained deep position by coming off screens — and pick-and-rolls will be a key to making Scola effective with the Suns.

Playing off the ball is a strength for Scola, but whether his numbers will be near the 32-year-old’s career averages remains to be seen as Phoenix and head coach Alvin Gentry decide on who gets touches next season.

Next up

Scola and Argentina will play for the bronze medal Sunday against Russia, who lost to Spain 67-59 today. Set your DVRs as the game will be played at 3 a.m. MST on the NBC Sports Network.

The Argentinians will be playing for a medal in their third consecutive Olympics after winning the gold in 2004 and the bronze in 2008. They faced the Americans in the semifinals in all three of these Olympic Games.

Russia won its pool with a 4-1 record, beating Spain and Brazil but falling to Australia on a buzzer-beating three by Patty Mills.

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