LAS VEGAS - LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony finally earned the reward that used to await U.S. players.
James scored 31 points, most by an American player in an Olympic qualifier, and the United States capped its dominance in the desert by beating Argentina 118-81 on Sunday to win the FIBA Americas championship.
Then James and Anthony climbed the podium and were given gold medals — a first for the two players whose international careers had consisted of nothing but bronze.
“I’m tired of bronze,” Anthony said. “I’m speechless right now. This is my first time ever winning the gold medal.”
Dwight Howard made all seven of his shots and scored 20 points, and Anthony added 16 points for the Americans, who were never challenged while winning 10 games in 12 days and will head to Beijing next summer as one of the favorites.
The Americans averaged 116.7 points in the tournament.
The game was largely meaningless, because both teams had already clinched spots in the Beijing field by winning semifinal games Saturday. But the Americans didn’t let up, remaining perfect in four Olympic qualifiers, including 7-0 against Argentina.
James and Anthony played on teams that finished third in the 2004 Olympics and ’06 world championships. The latter disappointment forced the Americans to play in the qualifying tournament this summer, but it proved to be just a minor roadblock.
“I learned that players can throw their egos and personal accolades out the window,” James said. “We came here for one reason and that was to get the gold medal.”
“You don’t like to single guys out, but LeBron’s performance today was one of the best ones in an international game that a U.S. player has had,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He was big-time today.”
The game was close for 6 minutes before the United States blew it open with an 18-0 run. The Americans scored the final 15 points of the first quarter, then Chauncey Billups opened the second with a 3-pointer for a 38-14 lead.
At one point in the second, the Americans scored five consecutive baskets on dunks — three by Howard and two by James, with each having one set up by Kobe Bryant, who had a quiet scoring night but had eight assists. When Howard dunked with 4:58 remaining to push the lead to 51-21, the United States had 16 assists on 18 field goals.
The Americans led 59-34 at halftime after shooting 57 percent. They averaged 59.7 points in the first half during the tournament, and their closest lead at the break was 14 points.
“We have the depth, we have the talent to be able to keep that foot on the gas the entire game and just not turn it on and off,” Bryant said.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Tournament MVP Luis Scola had 23 points for Argentina (8-2), which lost twice to the Americans. He led a team lacking its normal firepower to a spot in the Olympics, and now turns his attention to making his NBA debut next month for the Houston Rockets.
Without Manu Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nocioni and Walter Herrmann, the defending Olympic champions didn’t have nearly enough to keep up with the Americans here. The United States won 91-76 on Thursday in a second-round game that was never close after the opening minutes.
But the Argentina players didn’t seem to disappointed, smiling and waving to their fans who sang and danced throughout the awards ceremony.
“This team for the USA is one of the best USA teams,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “Of course nobody forgets the first Dream Team with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, but I like this USA team so much.
“They play so hard. They have great players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, but they play together so well and they play great defense. It is a pleasure to play against them.”
Puerto Rico beat Brazil 111-107 earlier Sunday in the third-place game.
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