In a tightly refereed and super-tightly played Olympic final, Team USA once again prevailed over a gutsy Spanish team, winning its second consecutive gold medal, 107-100.
Spain came up throwing an array of haymakers and jabs in a bruising first half that saw both teams go to the bonus midway through the second quarter. An even third quarter had the Americans up just one point heading into the fourth.
Spain was led by the brilliant shooting of Juan Carlos Navarro (21 points) and post play of Pau Gasol, and trailed by just one point at halftime. But the overwhelming theme in the game was physicality. All in all, there were a robust 54 fouls called in just 40 minutes of play.
Marc Gasol picked up a crucial fourth foul before halftime and was forced to sit for much of the third quarter. He was replaced by NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka, who gave a terrific lift with his activity on both ends.
As has been the case during this entire tournament -- and really this entire year -- LeBron James took over for his team when it needed him the most. It wasn't quite a triple-double, but his 19 points and 7 rebounds were enormous. Even more important was how he took over from the outset of the second half.
Team USA's first possession started with James posting near the elbow, followed by a double-team and a wonderful pass to Chris Paul for a wide-open triple. James gave the energy booster the Americans needed with a beautiful run-out off a Jose Calderon turnover, finishing an alley-oop from Kevin Durant.
James's two best moments came when it mattered most, around the two minute mark, as the game hung in the balance. First, a hammer dunk seized momentum, and then, just as in the NBA Finals, came the dagger: a pivotal, top-of-the-key three-pointer that this time put Team USA up by 9 points.
Don't forget about James's Finals nemesis, though. Durant provided excellent play throughout his entire 40 minutes. The NBA's three-time reigning scoring champ finished with a healthy 30 points on five threes, becoming the all-time Olympic scoring leader.
Also don't forget about Kobe Bryant. Perhaps overshadowed in this tournament by James, Durant and the uber-efficient Carmelo Anthony, Bryant came up with 17 big points in what was his final Olympiad.
The key adjustment for Spain -- and the reason this game remained close -- was force-feeding Pau Gasol in the post to initiate the team's offense. Gasol didn't get many touches in the first half, as Spain took a bevy of contested threes. But then the 7-footer took over, scoring 9 points straight. First he used his quickness on Tyson Chandler, then he contorted his body baseline on Kevin Love for a layup, then followed by drawing a foul in the middle of the lane. Once again, Gasol had an and-one. All in all, the four-time All-Star finished with 15 monster points in the third quarter.
Spain's other best offensive move was exploiting the Americans' inability to defend any sort of pick-and-roll, a trend that we've seen over the past decade in international play. Both Gasols were excellent, as were the Spanish guards, at delivering the ball in all the right places. When it came down to the vital moments however, it was Team USA's tenacity on the glass and sensational offensive balance that propelled the Americans to victory.
In some ways, it is hard to believe we are just 8 years removed from the embarrassment in Athens, when the Americans finished with a bronze medal. The "program" that Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have built -- as well as stars' ability to put away their egos -- has once again made it cool for multi-millionaires to represent the red, white and blue.
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