USA Basketball answers critics with blowout win over Argentina

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - The United States reaffirmed their status as gold medal favorites on Wednesday with a devastating 105-78 defeat of Argentina to storm into the semi-finals of the Olympic men's basketball tournament.

Even though the United States were the only team to finish group play without a loss, questions about their ability to claim a third straight gold swirled after three unimpressive narrow wins to close out preliminary play.

'What was wrong with the United States?' basketball fans asked.

The answer? Nothing.

SEE MORE: Everything you need to know about the Summer Olympics

"We got our swagger back, offensively and defensively," declared Paul George to reporters after the United States ran their Olympic winning streak to 23 games.

With the United States looking vulnerable, the fourth ranked Argentines came into the quarter final thinking 'upset'. After all, they had done it before.

With a 135-5 record in Olympic competition, losses are rare at the Games for the United State but Argentina can claim one of them.

It came on the same stage 12 years ago at the 2004 Athens Olympics when Argentina beat the Dream Team in the semi-finals and then went on to take the gold.

That loss triggered an overhaul of USA Basketball, the men going unbeaten ever since.

But on Wednesday there would be no repeat against a motivated Team USA that clearly wanted to make a statement.

Kevin Durant has big say in the outcome leading the U.S. on the scoresheet with a game-high 27 points while George had 17 and eight rebounds.

"The only thing that we changed was our passion and our energy," said Kevin Durant. "We were all one unit tonight and we need that going forward."

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"We always felt we had another level to go to especially after the last three games in the pool play."

Things did not start positively for the United States as Argentina jumped out to a 19-9 lead, the seething, flag-waving pro-Argentine crowd erupting with each basket. Each missed U.S. shot drew an even bigger roar.

But with so much talent the United States were never going to go down without a fight.

Shifting gears the United States went on a 15-2 run to end the first quarter and then stayed on the gas in the second with an 11-0 dash to take control.

"I wouldn't call it relief, I just think we are evolving," said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski. "The last three games in the pool play were very beneficial to us because we played three outstanding teams.

"They showed some weaknesses that we had and we tried to get better."

The United States will now face Spain, 92-67 winners over France, on Friday for a place in the gold medal final.

The other semi-final will see Australia, who dumped Lithuania 90-64, take on the winner of Croatia and Serbia who play later on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Hay)

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See every American medal won in Rio:

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2016 Olympic medals won by United States athletes
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2016 Olympic medals won by United States athletes

Gymnastics: Women's artistic team

Gold: Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas (L-R)

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Gymnastics: Women's artistic individual all-around

Gold: Simone Biles

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Gymnastics: Women's vault

Gold: Simone Biles

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Gymnastics: Women's artistic floor

Gold: Simone Biles

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Gymnastics: Women's artistic floor

Silver: Aly Raisman

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Gymnastics: Women's balance beam

Silver: Lauren Hernandez

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Gymnastics: Men's parallel bars

Silver: Danell Leyva

(Photo credit  TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

Gymnastics: Women's uneven bars

Silver: Madison Kocian

(Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)

Gymnastics: Men's horizontal bar

Silver: Danell Leyva

(REUTERS/Ruben Sprich)

Gymnastics: Women's artistic individual all-around

Silver: Aly Raisman

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Gymnastics: Women's balance beam

Bronze: Simone Biles

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Gymnastics: Men's pommel horse

Bronze: Alexander Naddour

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's decathlon

Gold: Ashton Eaton

(Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 100m hurdles

Gold: Brianna Rollins

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 400m hurdles

Gold: Dalilah Muhammad

(Photo by William Volcov/Brazil Photo Press/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's 400m hurdles

Gold: Kerron Clement

(Photo credit PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's shot put

Gold: Michelle Carter

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Track and Field: Men's long jump

Gold: Jeff Henderson

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's shot put

Gold: Ryan Crouser

(Photo credit FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's triple jump

Gold: Christian Taylor

(Photo credit FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's long jump

Gold: Tianna Bartoletta

(Photo credit FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's long jump

Silver: Brittney Reese

(Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 100m hurdles

Silver: Nia Ali

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's 100m

Silver: Justin Gatlin

(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's 3000m steeplechase

Silver: Evan Jager

(Photo credit OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 400m

Silver: Allyson Felix

(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Track and Field: Men's shot put

Silver: Joe Kovacs

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 100m

Silver: Tori Bowie

(REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)

Track and Field: Men's triple jump

Silver: Will Claye

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Track and Field: Women's 100m hurdles

Bronze: Kristi Castlin (Center)

(Photo credit PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 400m hurdles

Bronze: Ashley Spencer

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 3000m steeplechase

Bronze: Emma Coburn

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 200m

Bronze: Tori Bowie

(Photo credit PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Women's 1500m

Bronze: Jennifer Simpson

(Photo credit FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's pole vault

Bronze: Sam Kendricks

(Photo credit FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's 400m

Bronze: Lashawn Merritt

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Track and Field: Men's 800m

Bronze: Clayton Murphy

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Women's beach volleyball

Bronze: Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross

(Photo credit YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Tennis: Mixed doubles

Gold: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock

(Photo credit LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)

Tennis: Mixed doubles

Silver: Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Tennis: Men's doubles

Bronze: Steve Johnson and Jack Sock

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 4x100m medley relay

Gold: Ryan Murphy, Cody Miller, Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian
(Not pictured: David Plummer, Kevin Cordes, Tom Shields, Caeleb Dressel)

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 800m freestyle

Gold: Katie Ledecky

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 4x100m medley relay

Gold: Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Dana Vollmer, Simone Manuel
(Not pictured: Olivia Smoliga, Katie Meili, Kelsi Worrell, Abbey Weitzeil)

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Swimming: Men's 50m freestyle

Gold: Anthony Ervin 

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 200m backstroke

Gold: Maya Dirado

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Swimming; Men's 200m individual medley

Gold: Michael Phelps

(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Swimming: Women's 100m freestyle

Gold: Simone Manuel

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Swimming: Men's 200m backstroke

Gold: Ryan Murphy

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 400m freestyle

Gold: Katie Ledecky

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Swimming: Men's 200m butterfly

Gold: Michael Phelps

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 100m backstroke

Gold: Ryan Murphy

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

Swimming: Women's 200m freestyle

Gold: Katie Ledecky

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 4x100m freestyle relay

Gold: Nathan Adrian, Ryan Held, Michael Phelps and Caeleb Dressell
(Not pictured: Jimmy Feigen, Blake Pieroni, Anthony Ervin)

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 4x200m freestyle relay

Gold: Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith, Maya Dirado, Katie Ledecky (L-R)
(Not pictured: Missy Franklin, Melanie Margalis, Cierra Runge)

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 100m breaststroke

Gold: Lilly King

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 4x200m freestyle relay

Gold: Michael Phelps, Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas, Ryan Lochte
(Not pictured: Clark Smith, Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz)

Swimming: Men's 100m butterfly

Silver: Michael Phelps

(Photo credit GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 50m freestyle

Silver: Simone Manuel

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 1500m freestyle

Silver: Connor Jaeger

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 4x100m freestyle relay

Silver: Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil, Dana Vollmer and Katie Ledecky
(Not pictured: Amanda Weir, Lia Neal, Allison Schmitt)

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 100m backstroke

Silver: Kathleen Baker

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 400m individual medley

Silver: Chase Kalisz

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 400m individual medley

Silver: Maya Dirado

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 200m breaststroke

Silver: Josh Prenot

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 400m freestyle

Bronze: Leah Smith 

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 100m butterfly

Bronze: Dana Vollmer

(Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 200m individual medley

Bronze: Maya Dirado

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Swimming: Men's 50m freestyle

Bronze: Nathan Adrian

(REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler)

Swimming: Men's 100m breaststroke

Bronze: Cody Miller

(Photo credit Cristophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

Swimming: Women's 100m breaststroke

Bronze: Katie Meili

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 100m freestyle

Bronze: Nathan Adrian

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 100m backstroke

Bronze: David Plummer

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Swimming: Men's 200m freestyle

Bronze: Conor Dwyer 

(Photo credit GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Rowing: Women's eight

Gold: Emily Regan, Kerry Simmonds, Amanda Polk, Lauren Schmetterling, Tessa Gobbo, Meghan Musnicki, Eleanor Logan, Amanda Elmore, Katelin Snyder

(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Rowing: Women's single sculls

Silver: Genevra Stone

(Photo credit JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)

Diving: Men's 3m synchronized

Silver: Sam Dorman and Michael Hixon

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Diving: Men's synchronized 10m platform

Silver: David Boudia and Steele Johnson

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Shooting: Women's 10m air rifle

Gold: Virginia Thrasher

(Photo credit should read PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Shooting: Women's trap

Bronze: Corey Cogdell

(Photo credit Marwan Naamani, AFP/GettyImages)

Shooting: Women's skeet

Bronze: Kim Rhode

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Archery: Men's team

Silver: Brady Ellison, Zach Garrett and Jake Kaminski

(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Archery: Men's individual

Bronze: Brady Ellison

(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Fencing: Men's sabre individual

Silver: Daryl Homer

(Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)

Fencing: Men's individual foil

Silver: Alexander Massialas

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Fencing: Women's team sabre

Bronze: Dagmara Wozniak, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Monica Aksamit, Mariel Zagunis

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Fencing: Men's team foil

Bronze: Miles Chamley-Watson, Race Imboden, Alexander Massialas, Gerek Meinhardt

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Road cycling: Women's individual time trial

Gold: Kristin Armstrong

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Track cycling: Women's team pursuit

Silver: Sarah Hammer, Kelly Catlin, Chloe Dygert, Jennifer Valente

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Track cycling: Women's omnium

Silver: Sarah Hammer

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Judo: Women's -78kg

Gold: Kayla Harrison

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Judo: Men's -81kg 

Silver: Travis Stevens

(Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)

Wrestling: Women's 53kg

Gold: Helen Maroulis

(Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette/TNS via Getty Images)

Equestrian: Team jumping

Silver: Lucy Davis (pictured), McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Equestrian: Men's individual jumping

Bronze: Phillip Dutton, on Mighty Nice

(Photo credit John MacDougall, AFP/Getty Images)

Equestrian: Team dressage

Bronze: Allison M. Brock, Laura Graves, Kasey Perry-Glass, Steffen Peters

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Golf: Men's

Bronze: Matt Kuchar

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Boxing: Men's light flyweight 49-kg

Bronze: Nico Miguel Hernandez

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Weightlifting: Women's +75kg

Bronze: Sarah Elizabeth Robles

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Sailing: Men's finn class

Bronze: Caleb Paine

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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