USA claimed its second straight Olympic Games gold medal after they beat Spain 107-100 in another instant classic at the North Greenwich Arena on Sunday.
Kevin Durant was inspired, leading USA with 30 points with LeBron James adding 19 points and Kobe Bryant 17. Spain, led by by Pau Gasol’s 23 points were always the closest challengers to the Americans dominance, and they gave them a lot of scares in a game reminiscent of Beijing four years ago.
“It was more or less the same, Spain were very physical then and nothing has changed four years on,” Carmelo Anthony, who could only manage eight points said when asked about the similarities between the two games. “We knew about them going in, they have some different players compared to the ’08 Olympics but the mentality and style is the same. It was difficult for us but we can handle it and I’m just happy to win the gold medal.”
Spain’s Jose Calderon, who plays in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors missed the 2008 gold medal through injury, allowing youngster Ricky Rubio to fill the space which he did tremendously. Four years and the roles were reversed.
“They were similar,” he said. “We did our best, we did a lot of good things and make some mistakes, for you watching maybe we could stopped that but still they’re a great team. They have so many guys who can score, lots that can shoot the ball so you have to give credit to them.”
Juan Carlos Navarro had 21 points for Spain, but more importantly he was held to just two points in the second half as Spain relied heavily on Pau Gasol as his brother Marc was in foul trouble on four fouls in the second quarter.
But, the U.S again swept the board. They were a joy to watch at the best of times and when it got tough – and they were under pressure – they simply delivered the goods. From the blow-outs against Tunisia and Nigeria to the close grind against Lithuania. This game had every bit the intensity of their final game of Beijing 2008, widely regarded as one of the best international games in modern memory.
Maybe not in-line of 2008, but a close second.
“We won a great basketball game today,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski stated. “I thought Spain were really good, but I thought we were really good and we had to be in order to win. Foul trouble hurt us, their size hurt us and our guys have come through all the time.”
The game started in the same vein as their gold medal encounter in 2008. The pace was quick, the shooting was accurate. Navarro started hot, connecting on a four-point play within the first minute of the game and the U.S were not without their hot shooting. Durant came out firing; a three from Kobe Bryant gave the U.S. an early 15-12 lead.
The pace continued at a blistering level before both teams caught their collective breaths for the second quarter with the USA up 35-27. A dunk from Rudy Fernandez towards the last ticks of the first bringing the crowd at the North Greenwich Arena to its feet.
The second quarter never flowed, all three referees stamping their authorities on proceedings. The last eight points were free-throws which Spain scored seven of those.
“There were some weird calls, but nothing we’re not used to.” Anthony said.
Four points from Kevin Love put USA up 50-44 with three minutes to play in the half when a three from Navarro and free throws from Fernandez sliced the lead to just a point before the parade of foul shots to end the half came.
There was nothing to seperate them in the third quarter, as a lob from Durant to a flying LeBron gave the Americans a 70-68 lead but Spain matched them. A three-point play from Pau gave them the lead, only for the States to reply and take an 83-82 lead going into the fourth.
Then Chris Paul started his crusade. He scored seven points in the fourth, including a spectacular reverse spinning lay-up to give Team USA a 104-93 lead.
The Americans celebrated. The crowd rose to its feet. Game. Set. Match.
“I was happy that I was able to contribute to this team, it’s no doubt one of the best ever,” James said. “I was happy to represent our country so well.”
Russia claim bronze in thriller
Russia beat Argentina 81-77 in a great curtain raiser to the gold medal game as both teams fought to the very end.
Manu Ginobili connected inside to give the South Americans the advantage but with less than a minutes on the clock, Alexey Shved drained an open three to seal the game as Argentina then played catch-up and were forced to foul.
Shved, who now goes to Minnesota to play for the Timberwolves hit 25 points and dished out seven assists. Ginobili got 21.
Russia coach David Blatt announced that he was stepping down as head coach after these Olympics saying that he is done with international basketball for good.