Sunday, August 12, 2012
Instant Analysis: Team USA 107, Spain 100
By Marc Stein
Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row in London of Team USA's 107-100 win over Spain in Sunday's Olympic gold-medal game:
How it happened: Warning signs were there for the United States from Spain's very first possession, when Juan Carlos Navarro, someone Team USA has struggled to contain in the past, absorbed a foul from Kobe Bryant after draining a 3-pointer to start the afternoon with a four-point play.
A tone was quickly established.
Plagued by plantar fasciitis throughout the tournament, Navarro wound up scoring 19 of his 21 points by halftime, benefiting most from some classic Spanish offensive execution that had the underdogs within a point at intermission at 59-58. Making a high percentage of shots, finding holes in the U.S. defense with its ball and player movement and keeping turnovers down so the NBA All-Stars couldn't run, Spain seemed to have found a formula to shock the world.
And not even Marc Gasol's astonishing four fouls in the first quarter and a half would slow the Spaniards down. With Pau Gasol absolutely taking over in the third, looking every bit like the "beast" he proclaimed himself to be before the tournament started with 15 of 24 points, Spain stayed right there with its heavily favored foes well into the fourth.
Eventually, though, Team USA just had too much Kevin Durant, along with just enough from a foul-plagued LeBron James (including a big dunk and an equally huge 3 late) and some big fourth-quarter contributions from Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, to grab the gold.
It was even closer than it was in Beijing in 2008, when Spain lost by just 11 points in the final, but the United States ultimately snagged its 14th Olympic gold medal in men's basketball.
How close? It's the second-closest Olympic final ever, second only to the USSR's infamous one-point defeat of the United States in the highly controversial gold-medal game in 1972.
What it means: If he really can't be talked into staying on as Team USA head coach, as it appears, Mike Krzyzewski will be leaving international coaching with a record of 62-1 ... and a tidy 50-game winning streak.
Since a semifinal loss to Greece at the 2006 Worlds in Japan, Team USA has indeed reeled off 50 consecutive W's in full senior national-team games, with 17 of those coming in the Olympics since a semifinal loss to Argentina in Athens in 2004 before the Krzyzewski Era began.
Player of the game: Durant had to be good to bump Pau Gasol (24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists) out of this spot.
And he was sensational.
Scoring a game-high 30 points even without his 3-ball going down as early and often as usual, Durant carried the Americans' offense like he did at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, combining with Paul in the fourth quarter to help the Americans weather the long stretch of crunch time it had to survive without James.
Play of the game: Two biggies from Paul, actually, helped saved Team USA in this one.
With James forced to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 7:23 to go and Spain switching to a box-and-one to try to corral Durant, Paul produced a 3-pointer and a slick drive for a layup in succession, beating Sergio Rodriguez badly on the baseline on the latter scorer with a clever head fake at a time when the Americans were struggling for offense.
Paul delivered another driving layup late to beat the shot clock and Kobe Bryant finished with 17 points in support of Durant and James to help the Americans finally seal it and spark a flurry of joyous (and relieved) hugs in the final minute.
By the numbers: Team USA averaged 106 points per game in its eight victories, winning by an average margin of 32.1 points per game.
It was the third gold-medal meeting between the United States and Spain ... and the Spanish keep getting closer. The Yanks won by 11 points (118-107) in 2008 in Beijing and by 31 (96-65) in 1984 in Los Angeles.
No American had ever drained more than 17 3-pointers in an Olympic run before London 2012. But in these Olympics, Durant finished with 34 3s in eight games, with Carmelo Anthony (23) not far behind. So much for the fears that even USAB officials had during training camp in early July that this team might not have enough shooting on the roster.