Led by 33 points from Kevin Durant, the USA booked their place in the semi-finals of the FIBA World Championships by defeating Russia 89-79. They will now play Lithuania on Saturday for a place in the final after their destruction of Argentina.

It should be a fascinating encounter. The Americans will still need to find more but once more, against the Russians, they got the job done.

For a while, David Blatt’s men dished out as good as they received, emulating the pre-game verbal sparring of the two head coaches as one blow was met with another, no quarter given.

The off-court spat between Mike Krzyzewski and Blatt had added spice to a contest that needed little extra seasoning with a place in the last four at stake. Yet even Coach K was forced to concede one thing. “Russia played with passion, so it was a well earned win against a terrific team with a terrific coach.”

It was a satisfactory end to a distasteful exchange over the previous 48 hours when the Duke coach had attacked Blatt for his comments that the USA were not cheated out of the Olympic gold medal in 1972 by officials who, so the conspiracy theorists claim, helped the USSR take an undeserved triumph.

Before this game, the current crop of Uncle Sam’s exports were shown a film of the incident, a history lesson but also a motivational tool. Durant had ‘1972’ written on his shoes. It meant something extra this time around. But history belongs there for a reason. The basketball spoke for itself.

“Hey, I said what I thought, and after that I didn’t get a whole lot of chance to say something,” Blatt said. “I don’t know how much gamesmanship I practiced. But it looks like the (American) coach jumped on it and used it pretty good. His guys were awfully motivated and so was he.”

Although an early 7-0 run from the Americans pushed them ahead, their rivals reeled off seven unanswered points to display motivation of their own, new CSKA Moscow guard Sergey Bykov – who hit a team-high 17 points – shining as deadlock held at 25-25 at the end of the first quarter.

But ultimately, the USA used a 12-0 burst in the second to generate the momentum they needed, erasing Russia 35-30 lead when Derrick Rose hit a free-throw that put the Americans for good with 3.08 left in the first half. “With their zone, we just wanted to drive them and penetrate where we could,” Durant revealed. “So we got a lot of shots in.”

Sergei Bykov could not push Russia to the win (FIBA)

Down 44-39 at the break, the Russians still retained hope. But Durant and Chauncey Billups did what they have done throughout this tournament, coming up with scores at vital times. The USA accelerated to quickly open up a double-digit cushion.

The crowd tried to rally the underdogs. When Timofey Mozgov was called for a foul on what looked a legitimate block of Rose, there were jeers all round. But the neutrals did not get the tight contest they wanted. “Despite playing it hard and playing it well, the game was in the control of the American team,” Blatt conceded. Russell Westbrook ignited a 7-0 flurry that helped extend his side’s advantage to 70-56 entering the fourth.

And although Blatt urged his young team not to give up, the Russians fell 18 behind after consecutive three-pointers from Eric Gordon and Durant.

This is the American-born coach’s final tournament at the helm of his adopted international team and three years removed from the unexpected triumph at Eurobasket 2007, there are foundations in place for another run at a major prize. “I will remember this game in the World Championship and I hope the players will,” said Blatt.

The coming generation of Russians have immense potential just not experience. Not yet.

However Krzyzewski was forced to call a time-out with 3.32 remaining after Mozgov, the young New York Knicks draftee, jammed the ball to make it 84-72. But when Andrey Vorontsevich, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds, had to be helped off the floor, the Russians hopes of a late fightback sagged.

The USA moves on but, Brazil apart, they have still not been tested to the limit. Yet flaws or not, they are now just two wins from the title.

But it will not be the North versus South American clash that everyone expected.

Lithuania destroyed Argentina 104-85 in a manner that was at times awe-inspiring. Seven players scored in double figures, led by 19 from Simas Jasaitis. It was team basketball at its finest. The experience and guile of the Argentines was picked apart with flair and initiative. Out-gunned, out-rebounded and, most vitally, out-played, they must now head into the placing games knowing they failed to match their best when it mattered most.

Taking the lead with an 8-0 run midway through the first quarter, the Lithuanians gave only a small hint of the bombardment that was to come. Kestitus Kemzura’s men hit their first eight three-point attempts. Their opponents missed their first nine, their misery deepening with every passing minute.

Carlos Delfino hit a game-high 25 points to no avail (FIBA)

Up 28-18 entering the second period, the Lithuanians balanced offense paid immense dividends. When Kleiza missed a three-point shot, it seemed a shock, such was their immaculate play. And trailing 50-30 by half-time, there was nothing Argentina could seemingly do.

For once, even Luis Scola was subdued. Try as he might, he could not conjure up the impossible, scoring just 13. This young vibrant Lithuanian team only got their place in Turkey with a wild-card entry but they have seized their opportunity with vigour. The Eurobasket 2011 hosts were hell bent on a destruction job, their stunned opponents calling a time-out to take stock when their deficit grew to 30 points.

Behind the basket was a view of contrasts. On one side, the Lithuanian drums pounded out at full tilt, the green-clad hordes relishing this over-achievement. Metres away, there was silence and despair, the cameras beaming out the sight of one boy – in tears – onto the big screen.

There is no room for sentiment on these occasions and the Baltic giants showed none. Fabricio Oberto and Hemam Jansen were forced to sit on 4 fouls but there was no gamble left on offer. The roulette wheel was already stopped. To bet against white was now folly.

With an 85-63 advantage heading into the fourth period, only the clock stood between Lithuania and their semi spot. Scola walked off the court dejected but his was not the only head bowed in resignation. The Argentines – led by 25 points from Carlos Delfino – looked exhausted. They had nothing left.

As Kemzura ran his bench, the gap came down but it could not disguise the gulf.

“We thought our advantage was aggressive defence and one of our key moments was to stop Luis Scola,” he said. ” I think we did a good job.”

The modern cradle of European hoops is on fire again, with its new guard carrying the torch. The USA should tread warily or risk being burnt.

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