And then they went out and smacked Argentina by 27 points yesterday. So after a strong performance like that one, should everybody just relax? Well, maybe not just yet.
Perhaps the comparison to the disastrous performance by Team USA in Athens that some were making may have been a bit too strong, and I still fully expect this team to win out and get their third straight gold medal. That said, I still don't think they are out of the woods quite just yet.
It should be no surprised that the United States played very well against a solid Argentine club on the same night that Kevin Durant finally stepped up and looked dominant. After stretch of games in which the player expected to be the leader of Team USA looked unusually passive, resulting in Carmelo Anthony having to take charge against Australia and late against France, Durant came alive against Argentina and was en fuego from the perimeter, connecting on seven of nine. It also didn't hurt that DeMarcus Cousins also had his best game of the Olympics to this point and the defense, which had been really inconsistent thus far, came alive and looked strong.
In a tournament in which momentum is helpful and confidence is vital, Wednesday's performance by the United States was big. And a strong performance against a team like Argentina, a team that may be aging but still could be dangerous, is important when you are now going up against a team like Spain. But there are still reasons why the United States could still be vulnerable.
First off, they are still too prone to settle into playing one-on-one and trying to get into hero ball mode. Granted, we have seen that to varying extents ever since the Dream Team took to the floor in Barcelona but it feels like it has been magnified this year considering that this team has too many ball-dominant scorers, not enough shooters and not enough guys that can create for others. That's a key reason why Team USA can look like a mess offensively. It still works just enough simply because there still is too much starpower for it not too work.
That said, where the problems still remain are on the defensive end. The defense did step up big league against Argentina but only after Paul George and Kyle Lowry were inserted into the game with the US already down ten. The Lowry-Jimmy Butler-George-Durant-Cousins lineup keyed up the run that turned the tide that helped to break the game wide open and therefore you should see that lineup getting plenty of burn tomorrow. Draymond Green, who has barely gotten any play at all this tournament, also did quality work on the defensive end. But Team USA's slow start that allowed the Argentines to get that early lead shows that there are still some concerns on the defensive end and against a team like Spain that has been on fire offensively of late, could be worrisome.
Again, I still would be very surprised if the United States did not get the gold at the end of the day. But while I may be more confident today than I was 48 hours ago, I am also not as confident as I was before the Rio games commenced.