2012 London Olympics Men’s Basketball Semifinals Preview
- Updated: August 9, 2012
By: Kels Dayton
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Can Argentina hang in with the U.S. for forty minutes? The Argentines matched the Americans three-ball for three-ball in the first half of their last meeting and trailed by just one point, 60-59, at the half. There’s no question that Argentina can shoot with the United States and has a shot to beat them if they can control the tempo of the game. (That’s obviously easier said than done). This semifinal matchup will be determined by what the U.S. does on defense. If Team USA defends the way it did in the second half of their 126-97 blowout of Argentina on Monday, forget about it. When the Americans can force turnovers and get out in transition, they dominate the rest of the world.
KEY PLAYERS-USA: With all of the great players who have laced up their sneakers in the Olympics, it’s hard to believe that no one had ever recorded a triple double. It’s not hard to believe, however, that LeBron James did it. James scored 11 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 12 assists in Team USA’s 119-86 win over Australia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. It was just another example of King James’ dominance in these Olympics, where he has taken over Team USA and further cemented his spot as basketball’s alpha-dog. James is averaging 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game and would be everybody’s MVP if they named one, which, unfortunately, they don’t.
Aside from James, Kevin Durant has been the go-to-guy on offense, leading the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game. Durant has feasted on the shorter three-point line in international competition, shooting 57 percent. With all of Team USA’s stars, Durant has been able to get plenty of open looks and has taken advantage of them. Carmelo Anthony is also taking advantage of the opportunity to play on this team, pouring in 17.3 points and shooting 57 percent from the field. Anthony’s scoring ability is the perfect compliment to James’ selflessness and passing acumen.
KEY PLAYERS-ARGENTINA: This group is known as the “Golden Genreation” in Argentina, and with good reason. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, and company have led a basketball revolution in the nation, guiding Argentina to the top of the basketball universe in 2004 (winning the gold medal). 2012 appears to be their final run together, and they would love nothing more than to knock off the U.S. one more time. Ginobili and Scola obviously hold the keys to this team, and each are averaging over 19 points per game. Pablo Prigioni has also had a nice tournament, leading all Olympians with 6.5 assists per game, and sharp-shooting guard Carlos Delfino has put up 15.3 points per.
SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE: ”We are going to try to do the same approach, try to turn the ball over less, make a few shots in the second half hopefully, and not let them run. Then, if they get inspired and LeBron starts to make 20 3-pointers, there’s little you can do. We have maybe a five-percent chance of winning, but we are going to fight for that,”–Manu Ginobili
HOW ARGENTINA CAN WIN: A blueprint of the first half of the last meeting. Drain everything, control the tempo, and catch the U.S. on an off-shooting night. Argentina also MUST limit turnovers, or it will have no chance. Oh, and then they’ve got to stop LeBron, Kobe, and Durant down the stretch.
HOW THE U.S. CAN WIN: Play tough defense. That’s pretty much all the U.S. needs to do. Everything else will fall into place, like an avalanche on Mount Everest, if the Americans can get stops and force turnovers.
PREDICTION: United States 122, Argentina 100. The Argentines will hang around a little bit longer and make a few more shots, but the U.S. is too tough. No one in this tournament can hang with them for a full forty minutes.
Spain (4-2, Pt differential: +27) vs.
Russia (5-1, Pt differential: +50)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Will Spain return to its ’08 Olympic form? Something’s been missing with the Spanish during this tournament; whether it’s Ricky Rubio’s absence or Pau Gasol’s disappearance, Spain hasn’t looked like the same team that took the Redeem Team to the wire in the gold medal game in Beijing. The Spanish turned it on in the last five minutes against France, but that won’t fly against this talented Russian team. Russia is too tough defensively to allow Spain to pound its way back into the game should they fall behind. In fact, the Russians stormed back from a 20-2 deficit in the teams’ last meeting in group play and pulled out a 77-74 win.
KEY PLAYERS- RUSSIA: The Russians will need big games from Timofey Mozgov and Andrei Kirilenko in order to win this game. Kirilenko was outstanding in Russia’s quarterfinal triumph over Lithuania, scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Mozgov has been terrific inside, offering a physical defensive presence and powering his way to 17 points in the quarters. Guards Alexey Shved and Vitaliy Fridzon have also been Russian revelations, with Shved dropping 5.5 assists per game and Fridzon knocking down clutch shots.
KEY PLAYERS-SPAIN: It all starts with the Gasol brothers inside, but the perimeter players have to step up if Spain wants to return to the gold medal game. Guard Juan Carlos Navarro is shooting just 31 percent from the floor in the Olympics. Jose Calderon hasn’t been much better, going just 4-for-14 from three-point range thus far, and Rudy Fernandez is also 8-for-23 from downtown. Spain should find it even tougher to score against Russia’s length and defensive pressure, so it’s going to be imperative that someone steps up and knocks a few down.
HOW SPAIN CAN WIN: It’s going to come down to making shots and defending the three-point line. The two teams are fairly even inside (one could argue that Spain has a slight advantage), but Russia has a bevvy of three-point threats and has been shooting the ball well. Stopping Fridzon is going to be a priority, as he went off for 24 points in the teams’ first meeting.
HOW RUSSIA CAN WIN: If Russia continues to play defense the way it has throughout the Olympics, it’s going to have a great chance to knock off Spain. Unlike the Spaniards, Russia has gotten some big-time scoring from its perimeter players and can rely on a big output from Andre Kirilenko.
PREDICTION: Russia 73, Spain 70. The Spanish have just been too inconsistent to trust in this tournament, and without Ricky Rubio, it’s debatable whether or not they are more talented. Spain has plenty of big-game experience and will be ready for this one, but this just feels like Russia’s year to get back to the gold medal game.