Posted: 12:36 PM- BEIJING - When it was over, and they had dispatched arguably their toughest challenge so far at the Beijing Olympics, the Jazz's http://www.sltrib.com/olympics/ci_9684499" Target="_BLANK">Deron Williams and http://www.sltrib.com/olympics/ci_9684153" Target="_BLANK">Carlos Boozer" joined their U.S. basketball teammates in a tight huddle in the middle of the court, arms raised in a group high-five.
LeBron James spoke.
"This is what we've been waiting on," Boozer reported he said. "This is what we sacrificed our summers for, sacrificed spending time with our families for, and we're two days away from reaching our goal. And we're going to go after it with everything we've got."
Indeed, redemption is just a win away now, along with that gold medal.
Having fought off a spirited -- and sometimes nasty -- challenge from Argentina in the semifinals to win 101-81 Friday night at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, the Americans will meet Spain in their long-awaited gold-medal game on Sunday. Nobody expects it will be close, after the Americans won a preliminary round match-up by 37 points.
"I feel sorry for them," Williams said. "We're going to be ready."
The Americans were ready for Argentina, too, swarming all over the team that beat them in the semifinals of the 2004 Athens Games and doomed them to the embarrassing bronze medal that helped inspire the need for redemption in the first place.
Argentina's Manu Ginobili scored 29 points in that game, but managed only two on Friday in barely six minutes before leaving with an ankle injury. The star guard left the team bench shortly afterward, and was never seen again.
Meanwhile, the Americans sprinted to a 30-9 lead in the first quarter on the strength of their rabid defense, forcing turnovers and creating easy baskets.
"If we bring it on defense, I don't think anybody can beat us," Williams said.
The Americans acknowledged letting up in the second quarter, after Ginobili was gone, and coach Mike Krzyzewski said they played their worst defensive quarter of the tournament while letting the Argentines cut the lead to six points shortly before halftime.
But that hardly mattered after veteran point guard Jason Kidd gave a halftime pep talk and reignited his teammates.
By the middle of the third quarter, they had pushed the lead to double-digits again, and endured Argentina's attempt to rattle them -- particularly forward Carmelo Anthony -- with hard fouls, extra shoves and plenty of trash talk. Anthony confronted Argentina's Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni just moments apart in the third quarter, amid a series of rough plays, but was restrained by his teammates in time to avoid serious trouble. The Argentines never did quit coming, though.
"They were down there trying to be physical, I was trying to be physical back with them," Anthony said. "It got a little bit chirpy out there, but nothing personal, nothing major. ... They were trying to win, we were trying to win."
Anthony led the Americans with 21 points, 13 of them from a perfect performance at the free-throw line as a result of Argentina's attempt to rough him up.
"That's the things they have to do to beat us," Williams said. "These teams just can't come out here and beat us without messing with us or getting under our skin. We knew that, and expect that."
James added 15 points and five others reached double-figures for the Americans, though Williams and Boozer were not among them.
Williams scored six points in just 12 1/2 minutes -- his shortest outing of the tournament -- while Boozer did not score in the final two minutes.
Yet none of that concerns them now, not with the gold medal awaiting them on Sunday. Williams said having the chance to win one is the opportunity of a lifetime, and suspects he would cherish a gold medal more than an NBA championship. Boozer can't help but imagine what it will feel like to have one around his neck, after enduring the misery of claiming that bronze four years ago.
"There's going to be so many emotions for the four guys that were here in Athens," Boozer said. "That's all we just said. Before the game, me, D-Wade, LeBron and Melo got together and were all saying, 'We've been waiting for this for four years.' We got our revenge on Argentina, but the ultimate goal isn't Argentina. The ultimate goal is a gold medal."