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April 28, 2017

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USA barely squeeze past Argentina

BARCELONA, Spain -- It was the narrowest winning margin yet for the U.S. basketball team in the run-up to defending their Olympic title, but coach Mike Krzyzewski said the 86-80 victory over Argentina provided a valuable lesson for his squad.

"We learned a lot," he said, pointing to the way the traveling rule is called by international referees, the proud way Argentina battled back and the atmosphere of playing in Barcelona, where the Dream Team roared to gold in 1992.

"It is a traveling violation in international ball, we're not complaining about it," the coach said about the quick shuffle of the feet that was called numerous times against LeBron James.

"We don't usually get those called in the United States. And so we have to adjust to that. It means four exchanges where you have a positive flow taken away from us. Those things add up. We're continuing to learn as a team. A game like this helps us tremendously."

Twice the Americans exploded to 20-point leads only to see Argentina, bronze medalists in Beijing and Olympic champions in 2004, fight back with rugged inside play from forward Luis Scola and deft outside shooting by Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino.

"It was a great game for us because we played against champions," he said. "I thought it was really our first international game. You had the crowd, the officials. It was really good for us to get the flavor of things."

Krzyzewski praised Kevin Durant for an impressive night as the game's high scorer with 27 points, bolstered by a red-hot 7-of-11 from beyond the arc in the face of a vast array of Argentine defending.

"I thought Kevin was sensational tonight, against man and zone," he said.

Durant also said the close contest was a good learning experience.

"We had a good start moving the ball, hitting shots. Then Argentina did a great job slowing it down. We learned a lot tonight," he said.

Still, the lessons must be absorbed by the U.S. players, the coach stressed.

"We have to get accustomed to plays that don't occur in our basketball, like those travels and the six-point possession where Chris (Paul) was charged with two fouls and they got six points on that exchange.

"We have to be better so we don't let that kind of thing happen to us."

On that second-quarter sequence, Argentine guard Facundo Campazzo was fouled hard as he drove to the hoop by Paul, who was hit with a flagrant foul.

He made three free throws and that was followed by a three-pointer after Argentina inbounded the ball. It also led to some pushing as Scola and Durant traded words.

"Chris had a technical foul and Scola thought he did a little too much extra, and I can't let anybody get in my point guard's face so I had to try and break it up," Durant explained.

"We're a team so we got to stick together and that's what we did. Unfortunately, we gave them six points in that stretch. We got to use our head a little better, not let our emotions take over and be smart."

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