New-look U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team is a hit in rout of Argentina

U.S. guard klay Thompson drives to the basket against Argentina during an exhibition game Friday in Las Vegas.
(L.E. Baskow / Associated Press)

No matter how insistently Paul George tried to banish reminders of the ghastly broken right leg he suffered here two years ago, while he was playing in a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage before the World Cup, someone would bring it up — usually a reporter — and make him relive the horror all over again.

He guessed he was asked about it 100 times this week as he and the U.S. Olympic team prepared for their first pre-Rio exhibition game, and he finally said that was enough. But he had enough class to rehash it when the questions continued, giving reporters a fresh quote or a new sound bite to describe his remarkable comeback from a devastating injury.

The Indiana Pacers small forward didn’t mind facing those questions again Friday, following his active 18-point performance in Team USA’s 111-74 rout of Argentina at T-Mobile Arena. It was strange, he conceded, to play again in the city where he suffered the injury that kept him off the court for eight months, but that quickly receded from his thoughts while he and his teammates worked on developing a collective personality and cohesiveness in the few weeks before their Olympic opener.

His performance Friday, though satisfying, didn’t quite give him closure.


“Really the final step in the chapter of this is coming home with that gold,” said George, who hit seven of 11 shots and brought the ball up the floor a few times as a de facto point guard. “This was definitely a huge step for me personally, but as a whole it’s winning that gold.”

U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who gave all 12 players double-figure minutes Friday and tried out countless looks, said he hadn’t wanted to bring up George’s injury during training camp. But Krzyzewski, who had promised George during a post-surgical hospital visit that he’d be in contention for an Olympic spot if he recovered well enough and wanted to play, clearly was overjoyed to see him in fine form on a team that dominated Argentina, which couldn’t match the NBA stars’ size, athleticism or inside presence.

“I think he’s playing the best basketball of his life right now,” Krzyzewski said. “He is a guy, I think — I’m not saying the other guys aren’t in 100% shape that they will be in — I think he is. I think he’s ready to roll. He’s probably a guy that might go to 97%. He’s just a very gifted athlete. And to see him come back like this. . . . He’s a really good guy to coach because you can play him everywhere.”

George returned from his injury to play six games in the 2014-15 season and last season averaged a career-high 23.1 points as the Pacers returned to the playoffs. Returning to the Team USA environment was another significant step. “You appreciate the process,” he said. “All the little stuff, I appreciate, the training camps to the two-a-days, you just appreciate being on that floor.”

Golden State’s Kevin Durant had a game-high 23 points, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins pulled down 15 rebounds and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving had six assists for Team USA, which will face China on Sunday at Staples Center. Andres Nocioni, who played eight years in the NBA, led Argentina with 15 points. San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili played 14 minutes 45 seconds and had 11 points for Argentina, which committed 22 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle, 53-30.

All in all, according to Krzyzewski, it was a good beginning against a team whose ball movement was more like a European team than the other opponents the U.S. will face before Rio. His goal of being a solid defensive team is on track.

“There’s a willingness from these guys to work on everything we think we need to work on,” he said. “They’ve been outstanding.”

George attributed that to players’ ease in making this about the team, not individual egos.

“Usually in the NBA season, you’ve got time to build that chemistry. It’s a long season,” George said. “We’re playing for about a month so we have to be on the same page early and we have to be open with one another. That’s the only way we’re going to get this accomplished. We have great guys who are willing to let go of themselves and just enjoy this process.”

None might have as much reason to enjoy it as he does.

Twitter: @helenenothelen