|Manu Ginobili (right) and Andres Nocioni celebrate Argentina's trip to the semis for a rematch with the United States. (US Presswire)|
LONDON -- Down to a precious fews days together, Argentina's "Golden Generation" still glows.
Luis Scola scored 17 points, Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino added 16 apiece and Argentina held on down the stretch for an 82-77 quarterfinal win over Brazil in the Olympic men's basketball tournament on Wednesday, setting up a probable rematch with the U.S. in the semifinals.
Argentina lost to the Americans by 29 in the preliminary round finale.
But if the heavily favored U.S. defeats Australia in the late quarterfinal, the Argentines and Americans will meet in the semifinals for the third straight Olympics. Argentina won in 2004 at Athens, and the U.S. Redeem Team avenged that loss four years ago in Beijing on the way to winning gold.
For Scola, one of five leftovers from the beloved '04 team -- known fondly as "The Golden Generation" back home -- this is one last run at Olympic glory.
"We are getting older," said Scola, 32. "We know we don't have two more Olympics. We may not have one more. This is a special chance for us."
Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Pablo Prigioni also are in their 30s, and Delfino will turn 30 later this month. Once these Olympics are done, they'll likely pass the torch to another group.
"We are going to play the Olympic semifinal for the third time in a row," Scola said. "That's pretty big for our country. I know some countries have done that in the past, but you've got to put it in perspective. This is Argentina. We've never done that before and this is the same group that did it the two other times, so it's emotional for us."
Marcelinho Huertas and Leandro Barbosa had 22 points each for Brazil, which cut an 11-point deficit to three in the final two minutes but couldn't catch Argentina, a team with NBA swagger and experience.
After the final horn sounded, Nocioni raised his arms in triumph and he and his teammates formed a circle and began jumping as one near midcourt.
Prigioni grabbed the game ball and punted it into the stands like a soccer goalie.
In the closing seconds, Argentina's fans, who had draped several flags over the railings in the upper deck of North Greenwich Arena, sang "Cada dia te quiero mas" (We love you more) to the players.
"We just accomplished a huge goal to make it to semifinals," Ginobili said. "We know we are in a situation where thousands - if not millions of basketball players - want to be in."
Late in the first half, U.S. stars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and several other American players, all wearing oversized stereo headphones, walked in and took seats near one baseline to get a closer look at Brazil and Argentina. As soon as the first half ended, James left his seat and walked to the area where the teams exited the floor.
As the players filed past, James nodded his head and swung his arms to the music's beat, his actions seeming to send a message: America's next.
Ginobili and his teammates didn't need to be reminded what they'll be up against.
It appears Argentina will get another shot at the big, bad Americans and intend to make the most of it.
"We are gonna try to do the same approach, try to turn the ball over less, make a few shots in the second half hopefully, and not let them run," Ginobili said. "Then, if they get inspired and LeBron starts to make 20 3-pointers, there's little you can do. We have maybe a five-percent chance of winning, but we are going to fight for that."
Leading by six at half, Argentina, known more for its offensive flair than anything on the defensive end, held Brazil to just 14 points in the third quarter and took a 64-54 lead into the fourth.
Argentina used a 14-3 spurt in the third, a run highlighted by a 3-pointer from Nocioni, to open a 61-46 advantage.
When Ginobili hit a 3 early in the fourth, Argentina led 70-59 and it seemed Brazil was ready to head home and begin preparing to host the 2016 Games in Rio di Janiero.
But the Brazilians, coached by Ruben Magnano, who led Argentina to gold eight years ago, rallied and were within three following Barbosa's 3-pointer with 1:44 to go. But Ginobili, as he has done so many times for his country, responded with a clutch bucket and Scola knocked down two free throws to make it 78-71 with 47 seconds remaining.
Barbosa turned it over on Brazil's next possession and Delfino and Prigioni, who missed time in the tournament with kidney stones, made two free throws apiece to help Argentina hang on.
Before leaving the floor, the Argentines paused one last time, dancing and waving towels in celebration.
They've done if before.
They're doing it again.