When the U.S. men's basketball team reached halftime of its showdown with Argentina on Monday, the Americans held only a six-point advantage in their previous six quarters. Of course, in the six quarters prior to that stretch, the Americans' advantage was 117 points.
In fact, until they blew the Argentina game open with a 42-point third quarter, the U.S. seemed destined for their closest pair of consecutive wins since the final two games of the 2000 Olympics.
These are the ups and downs of international basketball in 2012. The fear and awe factor of the Dream Team is long gone, as expected, now that NBA championship teams routinely rely on international talent such as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki.
But the fear and awe also are gone on the American side: the fear of embarrassment, the awe of themselves.
As recently as 2004, a one-point halftime lead would have caused squirming from American players, fans and media. Now, although some fans and media haven't come around, the players at least understand that the competition's the thing.
This isn't gymnastics. There are no deductions for sloppy play. Basketball is more like running or swimming—first one to the finish line wins, the finish line being the most points at the buzzer.
And for any of their perceived flaws, Redeem Team II is undoubtedly excellent at reaching the finish line first. They are averaging more points than the Dream Team, with a comparable margin of victory. They finished group play 5-0 and begin the knockout stage Wednesday.
They won a game by 83 points but can still grind out the close ones. Kevin Durant is averaging more points than any previous American pro in the Olympics, while Carmelo Anthony set a U.S. single-game scoring record. They rebound, pass, defend and are shooting better than their 2008 counterparts.
In the words of announcer John Amaechi, "They may not be a dream team, but they're sure not a normal team."
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor.