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Argentina resorts to cheap shot as United States romps

Argentina's Luis Scol(L) goes for lay-up past TysChandler during men's basketball preliminary round match Argentinvs USA as part Lond2012 Olympic

Argentina's Luis Scola (L) goes in for a lay-up past Tyson Chandler during the men's basketball preliminary round match Argentina vs USA as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Basketball Arena on August 6, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / POOL / MIKE SEGARMIKE SEGAR/AFP/GettyImages

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:15AM

LONDON — It was wonderful to see Andres Nocioni — the old ‘‘Noce’’ of Bulls fame, the guy who first found out he would be a starter for the 2004-05 Bulls during the Athens Olympics — doing his thing.

That is, Noce fouled LeBron James at the beginning of the U.S. team’s 126-97 victory  over Argentina and was astounded — astounded — at the call.

Ah, memories.

But this was a game full of them.

One of them, occurring at the end of the third quarter, with the United States up 102-76,  was this: dirty play.  Remember that kind of stuff?

Carmelo Anthony, who’s 6-8, rose for a long jumper, and 5-10 Argentine point guard Facundo Campazzo hit him in the groin. Melo mellowed out on the floor in agony.  That’s cheap. That’s cheesy.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Anthony’s drop to the hardwood as if poleaxed, ‘‘He wasn’t celebrating the shot.’’

It was an angry moment in a hard-fought game, and the ensuing scrum put even more fever into the Americans’ goal of winning every game in London by as much as possible.

‘‘It was wrong,’’ Kobe Bryant (11 points in 21 minutes) said angrily of the jab. ‘‘We told him, ‘You don’t do that.’ ’’

For the first half, it looked like it was going to be anybody’s game, this country of 310 million up to its neck against a soccer nation of 41 million. The half ended with the U.S. ahead 60-59 after James stupidly fouled Manu Ginobili at halfcourt with 0.3 seconds on the clock and Ginobili drained the free throws.

You worry about those kinds of things with the U.S. team.  Mistakes are clearly the only way this team can be beaten.  Even an all-star squad made up of every great player from every other country in the entire Olympics could not beat the United States when it plays right.

And if anyone had forgotten those 2004 Olympics, when Noce first appeared on the scene, when Argentina won the gold medal, when the United States lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina and finished third, it didn’t show.  Even if they were only 10 at the time, as Chicago kid Anthony Davis was.

Said point guard Chris Paul (17 points, seven assists), ‘‘I was 19, and on a college all-star team that summer. I do remember it. That’s something you don’t forget.’’

That’s good. Very good. That’s all this team has to do, remember.

Behind Ginobili and fellow guard Carlos Delfino, Argentina even took a 55-54 lead not long before the half, and you could envision an upset that would’ve been very bad.

But the world has no one like James, whom Coach K started at the post in the third quarter, or Kevin Durant, a 6-10 wraith with  arms like vines and the long-range shooting ability of the best guards anywhere.  James had 18 points, but Durant’s 8-for-10 on three-pointers was insane.  If Noce or somebody else had gone at him too hard, why, Durant could just come around and dunk. He finished with 28 points (he missed only three shots), four assists and the best defense by anybody.

So what is the world to do?

Not much. 

That’s why Coach K, the penultimate college coach, is here.  No more of that ‘‘Leavin’ Larry’’ Brown stuff from 2004.  Krzyzewski has formed this team into one of brotherhood and rah-rah.  The players say the right things.  They are courteous. They put on a show when needed. 

And sometimes they’ll do that when not needed, as when they poured it on  Argentina after that low blow. Diplomacy only goes so far. Desire, toughness and skill have their purpose.

Anybody remember the 2002 World Championship when the United States lost to Argentina, Serbia-Montenegro and Spain

Krzyzewski sure does. His players, too.

‘‘The world is great,’’  Coach K said of the talent out there.

With great teams to whip up on, too.

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