RIO DE JANEIRO – This was the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team that everyone expected to see at the Rio Games, now right where it was expected to be — in the semifinals.
And a familiar foe will be waiting.
Emphatically ending a stretch of three straight close games, the Americans advanced by sprinting past Argentina 105-78 on Wednesday night.
Turning a slow start into an early ending with a 27-2 run in the first half, the Americans put away one old rival and set up a meeting with another. They will play Spain on Friday in a rematch of the last two gold-medal games.
Kevin Durant scored 27 points for the Americans, who had played three straight close games for the first time under Mike Krzyzewki, setting off a round of questions at home and in Brazil about what was wrong with them.
The answer might be nothing. At least it there wasn't anything wrong against Argentina.
The Americans eliminated Argentina for the third straight Olympics, this time ending not only a tournament for the Argentines but also an era for the 2004 gold medalists.
It was probably the last Olympics for Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and the rest of the Golden Generation, who beat the U.S. in the Athens semifinals en route to gold.
The Americans have won 23 straight in the Olympics since, and this was how they usually do it: too much firepower, too much defense, and way too much talent.
It took a little while to get going, as Argentina opened a 10-point lead. The Argentines made nine of their first 10 shots inside the arc and led 19-9 when Andres Nocioni hit drilled a 3-pointer. But the Americans finished the first period with a 16-2 run, getting the final six points from DeMarcus Cousins, to take a 25-21 edge to the second.
Three-point plays by Cousins and Jimmy Butler around Durant's 3-pointer in an 11-0 start to the second made it 36-21 before Facundo Campazzo stopped the onslaught with a three-point play.
Cousins, the normal starting center playing as a reserve, finished with 15 points.
Spain beat France 92-67 earlier Wednesday, its fourth straight victory after two losses to open the Olympics. The U.S. edged Spain 118-107 in the 2008 final and 107-100 four years ago in London.
The loudest crowd yet for a U.S. game, filled with chanting, flag-waving Argentina fans, boxer Floyd Mayweather and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, was treated to an explosive performance by the Americans, with devastating crossovers by Durant and Kyrie Irving that left defenders helpless and brought teammates to their feet on the bench.
They opened a 25-point lead in the first half and were in control from that point on, the first time since their second game in Rio they had it easy.
Ginobili, Scola, Nocioni and Carlos Delfino, the remaining Golden Generation players, checked in together for a last run with about 4 ½ minutes left. Argentina fans danced, cheered and completely ignored the crooked numbers on the scoreboard, turning Carioca Arena 1 into a raucous farewell party.
Ginobili was replaced a few minutes later, hugging teammates, coaches and after the game Krzyzewski, before returning to the court after the teams had headed to their locker rooms to be presented a game ball by an Olympic official.
Even Argentina's proud veterans didn't consider themselves medal contenders, especially after the Americans blew them out 111-74 in an exhibition game last month in Las Vegas and came to Rio as the overwhelming favorite.
But once play began, the U.S. rarely played up to those expectations, with one narrow victory after another as the competition toughened. The Americans held off Australia by 10, then pulled out three-point victories over Serbia and France.
The nail-biting came to end for the Americans.
So did an era for the Argentines.