BIG SECOND HALF HELPS TEAM USA PULL AWAY

After a back and forth first half, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, and Chris Paul led a dominant final 20 minutes as Team USA knocked off rival Argentina, 126-97, in London. Plus, Paul talks about his experience at the Summer Games so far.

For more than 24 minutes Monday, the game looked like another classic in Team USA’s longstanding rivalry with Argentina, but Lebron James and Kevin Durant went off in the third quarter and the United States pulled off a convincing win, 126-97, in London and finished the preliminary round undefeated.

Clippers point guard Chris Paul added 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including five of his team’s 20 makes from 3-point range, as Team USA (5-0) pulled away after Argentina (3-2) was within one point at halftime. The United States will meet Australia in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

“That’s a really good team we just played against,” said Paul, who lost to Argentina in the 2006 World Championships. “We’ve played against them a lot of times and that’s just a really good team. We knew to control Manu [Ginobili] as much as possible and the same thing with [Luis] Scola, but the first half they ran their offense to a ‘T’ and we didn’t defend well.

“At halftime out coaching staff did a good job of challenging us and we came out and played a much better third quarter and second half.”

Paul chipped in three steals, four rebounds, and a team-high seven assists. He was active on the defensive end, deflecting passes, jumping into passing lanes and picking up his man near midcourt when the United States seized control of the game.

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He also set up his teammates, dishing an assist to James for a layup and another to Durant on a drive and kick to NBA scoring champion in the corner on back-to-back possessions to spark a 42-17 third quarter.

With chants of U-S-A reaching a fevered pitch, Durant had 17 points in the period, finishing with a game-high 28 on 9-of-12 shooting (8-of-10 from distance), while James scored half of his 18 points in the frame.

“It was one of those times,” Durant said. “I’ve probably had that feeling three or four times before that every time I catch it, I feel like it’s going to go in but it wasn’t just me. My teammates did a good job of giving me confidence first off. Also, just finding me. They’re passing up shots to give me the ball and that’s a great feeling.”

Kevin Love said, “[Durant] just had a rhythm going in the second half. We were talking at halftime that everybody needed to step up and make a concerted effort. I don’t think he took that lightly. He came through, hit a lot of big shots for us and that’s what I think got us into a rhythm.”

In the first half, though, Paul was the scorer.

He had 14 points in the first 20 minutes, mostly from behind the arc. And with Argentina ahead by one in the second quarter, he snagged a rebound about 75 feet from the basket, pushed the ball down the center of the floor for an athletic right-handed layup. On the next possession, he nailed his second three of the quarter to put the United States ahead, 52-48.

Much like previous meetings between the two nations, Monday’s matchup was chippy throughout, none more so than midway through the second quarter when Paul knocked Facundo Campazzo to the floor, extending his left arm into Campazzo’s abdomen as he broke towards the basket for a defensive rebound. Campazzo retaliated in the second half, hitting Carmelo Anthony in the groin on a 3-point attempt as the buzzer sounded to end the third.

For Paul, it’s all part of what comes when you’re battling a rival.

“I give Argentina a lot of credit they pushed us they made us compete and that’s what you want to do,” Paul said. “I love it, I love it. When it got a little chippy here and there it gets you excited and it really lets you know you are on the Olympic stage playing for a gold medal.”

With three games standing between Paul and his second gold medal, the Clippers’ star also talked about how it might feel to win another one.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It would mean everything. There is no greater feeling then representing your country. There are so many guys back home in the NBA that would love this opportunity and I’m getting to do it for a second time.”

In July, Paul said he wanted to take advantage of what would likely be his final chance to be an Olympian. It sounds like he’s doing just that so far in London.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he continued. “Days between games I get a chance to see the best athletes in the world and tonight at 10:15 [local time] I get a chance to play on the best team that I will ever play on in life so words can’t describe it.”