LONDON - Chris Paul said the U.S. didn't plan to build its offense around Kevin Durant in the third quarter of Monday's game against Argentina. It's just that it would have been foolish to try anything else.
Paul said he and his teammates have encouraged Durant to shoot more, and he demonstrated why in the final game of pool play in the Olympic men's basketball tournament. Durant scored 17 points in the third quarter to crack open a tight game, and his 9-for-12 shooting -- including 8-for-10 on three-point attempts -- fueled a 126-97 rout in a game expected to be a serious test.
It was, for a while. Argentina, serenaded by fans singing songs and waving flags at the Olympic basketball arena, trailed 60-59 at halftime. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski challenged LeBron James to take control in the third quarter and challenged his entire team to dig in on defense.
James scored the Americans' first seven points of the second half, then Durant, who had 28 points, kicked into gear. He made five three-pointers as the U.S. outscored Argentina 42-17 in the third quarter to finish 5-0 in pool play and secure the top seed for the quarterfinals. It will play Australia (3-2) on Wednesday.
The Americans are outscoring their opponents by an average of 38 points per game.
"Anybody in their right mind, when [Durant] gets to shooting the ball like that, there's only one play,'' said Paul, who made six of seven shots himself for 17 points. "Get the ball to him.''
The U.S. has not forgotten that Argentina knocked it out of the running for a gold medal at the Athens Olympics, defeating the Americans in the semifinals. It also did not forget the scare it got Saturday against Lithuania in a 99-94 victory.
The teams swapped the lead for much of the first half, as Argentina's Manu Ginobili guided a smooth, hot-shooting offense. Argentina led 57-56 with 45 seconds remaining in the half, but the Timberwolves' Kevin Love muscled inside for a basket that restored the U.S. lead. Love had a hot hand, too, making five of seven shots and finishing with 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Things got testy at the end of the third quarter, when Facundo Campazzo undercut Carmelo Anthony and hit him in the groin after Anthony's three-pointer. That incited some yelling and posturing from both sides. Durant, though, was the main show in the second half.
"I had a good rhythm,'' Durant said. "My teammates did a great job of passing. The ball kind of finds me; I've got to do my part and shoot a good shot, and hopefully, it goes in.''