RIO DE JANEIRO — 1. The atmosphere is incredible.
I'm a child of the original Dream Team and before that, the 1984 U.S. team with younger versions of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. So, after a week-plus of covering swimming, I was eager for my first live experience with USA Basketball in the Olympics.
The scene at the U.S.-Argentina quarterfinal game did not disappoint.
Mike Krzyzewski had warned his players they'd likely face a loud, pro-Argentina crowd. And that was certainly true. There were seemingly thousands of patrons wearing the traditional white and light blue stripes, waving flags and singing their hearts out. But the NBA carries international appeal, so the U.S. stars received plenty of loud cheers as well.
It made for a charged atmosphere that felt very different from a pro game in the U.S. My favorite moment came with six minutes left in the fourth quarter when the Argentine fans, realizing their team was hopelessly behind, decided to sing and shout for the rest of the game anyway. They were there to celebrate their guys, and they were going to do it no matter what the numbers on the scoreboard said. Pretty cool.
2. There is no one like Kevin Durant.
You knew that. I knew that. The Golden State Warriors certainly knew that. But it was striking to watch Durant in the company of other great players — Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, take your pick. Because even with those guys standing right beside him, he felt like a higher basketball species.
Durant was one of the tallest players on the court and because his arms are so long, he seemed to control the most space by far. But of course, he does not play like a big man. Given the least bit of room, he shot effortlessly and accurately from 25 feet. When the Argentines pressured Irving, Durant brought the ball up. He hit a crazy running shot off one foot as his momentum carried him away from the basket. He was a chess piece to which there was obviously no answer.
Kryzyzewski knows this as do Durant's U.S. teammates. If this team finishes off its business on Friday and Sunday, he seems likely to be the front man taking it on home.
3. Facundo Campazzo is the reason international basketball is cool
Well, he's not the only reason. But the U.S. seems to run into a guy like this at every Olympics. Campazzo is a stocky, 5-foot-11 point guard. I don't think there's a single guy in the NBA who looks like him. There are plenty of guys in your local rec league who do.
But none of those rec league dudes were sinking exquisite floaters over Kyrie Irving in the biggest game of the summer.
It's a joy to watch players like Campazzo, who don't fear the NBA stars and invent shots on the fly like they're in an elaborate game of H.O.R.S.E. For a few minutes there, I thought the Argentine point guard might wield enough magic to make it a game.
Not so, but he made the evening a lot more fun by trying.
4. The Argentines had no answer for DeMarcus Cousins.
If you're only a casual NBA fan, you might not understand how unstoppable Cousins is, given that he's marooned on the hopeless Sacramento Kings.
In an age of flexible, 3-point-shooting big men, Cousins is more of a classic model. He's the thickest guy on the court but also one of the most dexterous. When he bulled his way to the hoop, the Argentines could do nothing to impede him.
Perhaps the Spanish, with Pau Gasol in the middle, will have more luck. But I doubt it.
The best U.S. players are no longer used to feeding the post. Spacing, ball handling and corner three-pointers are their bread and butter. Still, they best not forget Cousins when gold medals are on the line.
Manu Ginobli received the goodbye he deserved.
There haven't been many cooler players to watch over the last 15 years than the great Argentine shooting guard.
With his ability to play a half step off anyone's else's rhythm and hit game-altering three pointers at the least likely moments, Ginobli was the funkiest but least appreciated superstar on the Tim Duncan Spurs.
He's also been the stalwart star of a great Argentine national team that upset the U.S. on the way to a gold medal in 2004. At 39, he probably took his last international bow Wednesday night.
Ginobli's game isn't what it was in 2006, but he still snaked his way to the hole a few times and answered several of Durant's 3-pointers.
The fans showed their appreciation with a full-throated serenade. And every U.S. player gave Ginobli a hug after it was over. I was glad to be in the building to see it.