For the second straight time, Spain made it very hard for the American team to touch that gold medal. Once again, the Americans had too much talent to overcome all of their problems throughout the game in the crucial fourth quarter moments, this time ’round being LeBron James and mostly Kevin Durant, scoring 30 points en route to his first Olympic gold medal.
This was nothing like the rest of the tournament, in which the Americans won by an average of 35 points, including that 83 point win over Nigeria which set a few Olympic basketball records. Spain are the best team in Europe and the world when the US aren’t involved, and they turned the game into something they could win. The difference in depth and individual talent was just a bit too much in the end.
Pau Gasol, who along with Durant led the scoring through the first 5 games, led Spain with 24 points, taking advantage, along with his brother and Serge Ibaka, of the lack of big men on the other side. Gasol finished with 24 points, with the three combining for 53 that came mostly from the paint. Juan Carlos Navarro, the engine of the Spanish team, the heart and guts and confidence, finished with 21 points and some big plays in the final quarter. Again, it was just short of enough.
Because at certain points, the American finally found out a way to handle the zone defense that troubled them so much. The ball left the hands of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul and went to Kevin Durant, who was on fire during the third and fourth quarter, finishing with 30 points, hitting 5-13 from beyond the arc. LeBron James started making plays, and went he wasn’t too lazy, settling for contested three pointers, there was no one who was actually able to stop him in the paint.
Coach K forgot about splitting minutes and giving everyone a chance. With the gold medal in sight, Tyson Chandler and Russell Westbrook got less than 10 minutes. Anthony Davis and James Harden got 37 seconds. Iguodala played just over two and a half minutes. He went with his aces, who had trouble with the mismatches the Spanish team created, but eventually prevailed. Talent, experience and the right kind of decisions on both ends of the floor won it for Team USA, bringing in the 14 gold medal in Olympic basketball.
It’s always the Dream Team’s game to lose. All the pressure is on them to avoid the events of only three other Olympic games (1972, 1988, 2004), leaving the 1980 Olympics, in which the Americans didn’t participate, out of the equation. This was more proof of how big a superstar Kevin Durant is, no matter who’s on the floor next to him. Of how Bryant isn’t where he was three and four years ago, that’s a younger man’s game now.
It was always a fight about how not to lose, more than it was about actually winning the gold medal that was already half way across the Atlantic the moment team USA stepped on the basketball court in London. For some of these guys (Carmelo and LeBron) it was their third time, including the 2004 debacle. But for the most part, this was another part of the great legacy that the American teams with NBA players leave behind, showing how far the world is, still, on most nights, from the best league in the world.