Saturday, LeBron James saved his best for last, as the United States salvaged an Olympic victory against Lithuania. Monday, he got started a bit earlier, his solid start to the second half allowing the United States to pull away from Argentina.
With James scoring seven quick points at the start of the second half, the United States was able to complete pool play at 5-0 with a 126-97 victory over Argentina, a team the United States is bracketed to meet in Friday’s semifinals.
Up next for the United States at the start of the knockout round is a Wednesday 5:15 p.m. Eastern quarterfinal against Australia.
The United States was the lone team among the 12 at the London Games to complete pool play undefeated.
James downplayed the United States’ opening-round success.
“We’re very beatable,” he said. “We don’t feel unbeatable. We just got to continue to get better, continue to work our habits, both offensively and defensively. Every team is beatable in this tournament and we know that as well.”
James closed with 18 points, limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, but his contribution was key in breaking open what had been a one-point United States lead at halftime.
“LeBron, he is special. What more can you say? I came to the bench and I heard Coach say, ‘Take the game over,’ ” point guard Chris Paul said of Mike Krzyzewski’s instructions to James. “He is the guy capable of taking the game over. When you think about a guy taking the game over you just think about scoring. He is the guys who can take the game over on the defensive end. He can share the ball.
“He’s what six or seven inches taller than me and maybe 60 pounds more than me and he can do everything I can do with the ball, almost.”
Just as coach Erik Spoelstra had done during the Heat’s championship run, Krzyzewski stationed James in the post in a bid to turn the game.
“We don’t have a post presence,” Krzyzewski said. “So it was something a little bit different to give our offense a little different look at that time and he responded really well.”
Krzyzewski said James made a difference across the board.
“He has really been our quarterback on defense, with his voice,” he said. “And he was all over the place on the defensive end especially in the third quarter. I thought he played magnificent.”
James said he knew it was time to get to work at the start of the third quarter.
“We knew defensively in the first half we didn’t play to our capabilities,” he said. “We allowed them to get a lot of open shots, a lot of open looks, a lot of layups and that’s not how we play the game of basketball defensively. We came out with a sense of urgency in the third quarter to step it up.”