LONDON (Reuters) - Reigning Olympic champions United States set up a mouthwatering gold medal rematch with Spain by thrashing Argentina 109-83 in the men’s basketball tournament on Friday.
Spain, who beat Russia 67-59 in their semi-final, lost 118-107 to the Americans in a close final at the Beijing Games.
The U.S. and Spain will play on Sunday for the title when Argentina and Russia battle for the bronze medal.
”The final in 2008 was very competitive, very emotional,“ said Pau Gasol, who led Spain in their semi with 16 points. ”We felt we had a good chance and we fought throughout the game.
“We understand it’s going to be difficult again. It’s a huge opportunity. We are so fortunate that we have our second chance and so it’s a matter of going out there and enjoying the moment and competing as hard as you can.”
Argentina kept pace with the U.S. team throughout the first half on Friday, as they did in the preliminary round, trailing 47-40 despite falling behind 18-6 early in the game.
After the break, Argentina faded under some relentless offensive firepower. Kevin Durant warmed up from three-point range and poured in four bombs as the U.S. team stretched their lead to 17 points going into the fourth quarter.
“I think we did a good job of starting well and responding to them whenever they made a few runs,” said Durant. “When you have guys like we do, that can penetrate, you just have to knock down a few shots and it’s easy.”
Carmelo Anthony took the baton from Durant and rained threes in the last quarter, sinking four in short order to pad the lead to 93-62 before the U.S. took their foot off the accelerator.
In the first quarter, Kobe Bryant lit up the scoreboard with a series of four threes wrapped around a baseline drive he finished with a reverse dunk.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said he appreciated the willingness of his players to pass to the team mate with the hot hand.
“We have a battery of weapons,” he said about the offensive talent he can roll out on the floor.
“When they see one guy has got it (going), they go to him. With the scoring capabilities that each of them have, their willingness to focus on the guy they see has it, is gratifying to me. It says something about the kind of guys I‘m coaching.”
Argentina has been a thorn in the U.S. side over the past decade.
They became the first team to beat a U.S. squad featuring NBA players at the 2002 world championship, and two years later knocked the Americans out in the Olympic semi-finals on the way to claiming gold at the Athens Games.
The U.S. answered by sending Argentina to the bronze game in Beijing and now in London.
“I‘m not saying it is impossible to beat them but they are the best team in the world and when they play the way they want to play they usually win,” said Argentina coach Julio Lamas.
Durant led the scoring for the U.S. with 19 points, with Anthony and LeBron James adding 18 apiece.
Argentine stalwart Manu Ginobili posted 18 points while Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino registered 15 points each.
Editing by Ken Ferris