Team USA can thank Lithuania for playing hard and forcing the team to come together late in the game in order to pull out a close victory. Such experience would prove useful in Team USA's match against Spain in the gold medal round.
With a 107-100 win over Spain, Team USA won the gold and fulfilled great expectations. The win may not have been a blowout, but the close match made it all the more satisfying — the game featured 16 lead changes and six tied scores. Similar to the Lithuania match, LeBron James provided some huge buckets late in order to pull out the victory. With the game up for grabs with just under three minutes remaining, James provided a dunk and a dagger three in order to push Team USA's lead up to nine points. From there, Team USA would no longer have to worry about the possibility of actually losing.
Before I get to the coverage, let me state that this game could have turned out much differently. Marc Gasol picked up four fouls in the first half, thus forcing him to miss about 17 minutes of gameplay that he most likely would have been a part of — about five minutes in the second quarter, the entire third quarter, and the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter. Pau Gasol also missed some crucial minutes in the fourth quarter after a reach from James cut open his eyebrow and forced him out of the game until the blood could be stopped. Both situations clearly had an impact on the outcome of the game.
In particular, the fouls called on Marc Gasol, and many others, were rather ticky-tacky. Marc's fourth foul featured an over the back call as he tried to gather an offensive rebound over Kevin Love. The play wasn't necessarily worthy of a whistle, especially because Love still pulled down the rebound. Following the cheap foul, Marc slammed the ball in disgust before resigning himself to the bench.
While the Marc foul favored Team USA, it was evident that both teams were quite upset with the referees. Team USA ended up shooting 24-31 (77.4%) from the line, and Spain bettered them by making 27-32 (84.4%). In the first half, 33 whistles were blown in just 20 minutes of play. The continuous stoppage in play worked directly into Spain's advantage. With the game slowed down, Team USA struggled to get easy transition buckets due to continuous stoppage and inbounding. The referees absolutely destroyed any sort of rhythm in the game, and the match turned into a boring free throw fest. 26 free throws were shot in the second quarter alone. Off the ball fouls were rampant, and ticky-tack calls destroyed any sense of tempo. For such an important game up for grabs, it was rather disconcerting for the referees to have such an impact. Nobody came to watch the referees, but they seemed to take hold of the game in the first half. Doug Collins summed up the tight refereeing best late in the first half by stating, "I hate to see that [...] I don't mind fouls when it has something to do with the play, where it prevents a play from happening. We've had six or eight off the ball that they could have just let play on."
In the second half, just 21 fouls were called — three of which were Spain intentional fouls at the end of the game in an effort to extend the game and force Team USA to make free throws. The referees clearly backed off, and the play on the court was much smoother. I have a feeling someone told the referees to back off — rightfully so. The game resumed a more normal flow, and Marc was able to actually play the most of the fourth quarter — something that looked near impossible for him early in the game.
Both teams started with a bang in the first quarter. On the first possession of the game, Kobe Bryant fed Tyson Chandler a layup following a drive and dump. Pau responded with a drive and kick to Juan Carlos Navarro. Navaroo sank the three from the top, and he drew the foul on Bryant in order to earn a trip to the line for a four point play. Navarro sank the free throw, giving Spain an early lead right off the bat. Kevin Durant followed with a corner three following a drive and kick from Chris Paul. After Pau hit a sweet running hook in the lane over Chandler, Durant responded with an offensive rebound on his own miss that led to an and-one fade from the block. However, Durant couldn't finish the nice play — he missed the free throw.
The ensuing possession marked one of the lighter moments in the game. After Marc and James ended up diving on the floor to gather a loose ball in the paint, the refs called jump ball and Marc pulled out his mouthpiece. As he pulled it out, a bit of spit must have landed on James, because James immediately had a funny look appear on his face as he looked into Marc's eyes and then down to his own arm. James held his arm out with a look of disgust as he gave Marc a "what the hell" sort of look.
Team USA gathered possession, but Chandler couldn't capitalize in the lane following a drive and dump from Paul. Pau immediately responded with a far block post up that led to a kick out to Navarro for a far side three — swish, giving Spain an early 7-9 lead. On the ensuing possession, Rudy Fernandez and Chandler got tangled up at the top of the key following a Durant missed three. Fernandez locked Chandler's arm up with his and he purposefully yanked Chandler and fell to the ground, bringing Chandler along with him. Fernandez tried to sell the flop, but the refs noticed who the true culprit was and they assigned him a foul. Durant could not capitalize with another attempt from three. Fernandez followed the incident by airballing an open three, but Pau cleaned up the miss and kicked out to Navarro at the top for the three. Navarro sank the shot, giving him three three-pointers in the game. Prior to the game, Navarro had made just six threes the entire tournament.
Bryant responded with consecutive three point makes. First Bryant held the ball in the corner. With his Lakers teammate guarding him, Bryant jabbed to twice to back Pau up, and he drilled the three in Pau's face. Then James sent a great outlet ahead to Durant for a potential layup ahead of the pack following another Fernandez missed three. As Durant went up for the shot, Jose Calderon grabbed him by the shoulders and neck to prevent a clean look. Fernandez trailed the play and swatted the ball five rows deep as if he was Dwight Howard, but the foul was called on Calderon, and Calderon was assessed an unsportsmanlike foul. Durant sank both free throws, and Bryant capitalized on the extra possession. Bryant used a James pick at the near wing to circle to the top and hit a three — giving Team USA a 15-12 lead at the 5:29 mark.
Navarro continued his stellar play by pumping in the far corner and getting the fly by from Bryant. After Bryant ran him off the line, Navarro calmly took a step in and nailed the long two. Carmelo Anthony responded with a catch and shoot three from the top following a James drive and kick. Marc responded with a turnaround jumper over Anthony in the lane to make the score 18-16.
Team USA responded with a 7-0 run. First Durant earned free throws following a strong drive to the rim — he sank both. Then James fronted Pau and easily stole the entry pass after Fernandez sent a misplaced lob that was supposed to go over the top. Anthony capitalized by deftly nailing a pull up bank shot from the far mid wing. Then Anthony hit a far side three following a drive and kick from James to stretch the score to 25-16.
Spain responded with trips to the line. After gobbling up an offensive rebound, Pau drew a foul on the putback and he sank both free throws. Then Navarro drew a foul and made both free throws. Deron Williams responded with a pull up three from the top. Fernandez tried to counter with a three of his own, but he missed. Serge Ibaka gobbled up the miss and drew a foul — making one of two from the line. Williams came right back and busted the Spanish 1-2-2 zone by attacking straight into the middle from the top. Williams burst into the lane and dropped off a sweet wraparound pass to Love in the lane for a dunk to give Team USA a 30-21 lead at the 1:53 mark.
Spain immediately took a timeout, and it worked — they scored on three straight possessions. Ibaka sank two free throws after getting fouled on a dunk attempt. Russell Westbrook countered with a pull up jumper, but Pau responded with a jumper at the elbow following a pick and roll with Sergio Rodriguez. Team USA followed with some nice ball movement. Westbrook attacked the lane and kicked out to Anthony at the far wing, and Anthony sent a quick touch pass to Durant in the far corner for a three — swish. Rodriguez responded with a high basketball IQ play. After pounding the ball at the top and looking to probe, Rodriguez noticed Fernandez slipping behind the defense on the baseline, and he sent the lob for Fernandez to throw down a two handed alley oop jam. After falling asleep on the previous defensive possession, Durant atoned for his mistake by swatting Pau's quarter ending three point attempt from the near side. Team USA headed into the second quarter ahead 35-27.
In the second quarter, play stalled, and 24 total fouls were called in just 10 minutes of play. Fernandez opened the quarter with a three. After a Westbrook turnover, Fernandez drew a foul on Anthony by setting a back pick on him at the block. Anthony turned right into the pick and ran him over — picking up his second foul and moving to the bench with two early fouls. Pau capitalized with a strong drive from the mid wing to finish a layup at the rim. Another miscue from Team USA — James and Love tapping the ball away from each as they went for an offensive rebound — allowed Rodriguez to push the floor and draw a foul on a drive to the rim — he sank both free throws to make the score 35-34 at the 8:43 mark.
With Spain playing a more athletic lineup, James capitalized on their switch from a 1-2-2 zone to man defense. A foul on Bryant forced a sideline inbounds, and James finished a play that seems to have become a staple inbounds play for James and Team USA. From the near sideline, James inbounded to Chandler at the elbow. James immediately stepped inbounds, took the handoff, attacked middle, and threw down the one handed dunk. Marc responded with a sweet, high arcing fade in the lane that dropped through nothing but net. Following an errant Paul lob that led to a turnover, Rodriguez nailed a far wing three to give Spain the lead 37-39 at the 7:31 mark.
Following the made three, Rodriguez tried to exact some revenge on Chandler. On the previous Team USA possession, Chandler laid a nice back pick on Rodriguez that gave him a bit of whiplash. Feeling confident after his made three, Rodriguez decided to actually ram into Chandler's chest as Chandler tried to set a pick for Paul at the near wing. After getting rocked back, Chandler recovered and ran into Rodriguez and got in his face. The whistles sounded, and both players were awarded technicals. Following a Bryant missed three, Love followed with a tip in putback to tie the game at 39.
Then the free throws began to rain down. After stealing a Navarro outlet to the top, Durant raced down the court in transition. Durant missed the layup, but he gathered an offensive rebound and drew a foul — making both free throws and giving Team USA the lead. Rodriguez responded with a drive and kick to Sergio Llull for a three from the near side. As the shot went up, Love picked up a foul for holding Marc in the lane. The shot counted, and Spain gained an extra possession. However, Ibaka squandered the possession with a silly turnover. Ibaka attempted a handoff for Rodriguez on the near sideline, but Rodriguez was actually out of bounds when Ibaka let go of the ball, and the ball ended up bouncing out of bounds. Rodriguez immediately gave Ibaka a look of disgust. James responded with a drive to the rim that led to free throws. By making both, James passed Michael Jordan to become second all time in USA Olympic scoring with 258 points — David Robinson holds first with 280 points.
James gave Team USA a 43-42 lead, but Marc countered with a finish in the lane following a pick and roll. Surprisingly, the refs decided not to call a blatant foul on the play. James gave Marc a pretty decent shove in the back as Marc went up for his layup. The foul was obvious, and Marc definitely glared at the refs following the blatant no call. To make matters worse, Durant pulled up for a floater from the near block, and he drew a foul on Marc along the way for the and-one. Following a couple misses from both sides, Marc picked up an offensive foul attempting to gather an offensive rebound over Love. Marc did bang bodies with Love in the air, but Love easily maintained possession, and it seemed like a rather innocent basketball play between two big men. The awarded foul forced Marc to go to the bench with four fouls at the 5:29 mark in the second quarter. With just five fouls allowed in international play, Marc was clearly upset, and he had some choice words for the refs as he threw his hands down in disgust. Love sank both free throws.
The ticky tack calls continued on the next possession. Bryant easily pinned Navarro on the far block, and as Bryant cleared out Navarro to gain the entry in early offense, Navarro flopped to the ground in an effort to prevent the wide open layup. As soon as Bryant caught the ball, the whistle blew, and Bryant slammed the ball to the ground in obvious frustration. Following a missed Navarro three, Felipe Reyes picked up a questionable foul as he and Love crashed into each other going for the rebound. Love initiated the contact, but Reyes was awarded the foul — Love sank both free throws, giving Team USA nine out of their last 11 points from the charity stripe, and a 50-44 lead at the 4:56 mark. Navarro followed with a three at the top, and Fernandez drew a foul on James after getting pushed in the back while going for a defensive rebound — Fernandez sank both free throws to cut the score to 50-49 at the 4:21 mark.
James responded by blowing by Spain's 1-2-2 zone for a floater in the lane. Then Westbrook sank one of two free throws after drawing a foul on his way up the court. Following the play, a horrible offensive foul was called on Reyes. Reyes easily pinned Durant in the lane, and after sealing Durant and opening up for the entry, the whistles blew and Reyes was assigned an offensive foul. The foul was rather phantom, and Reyes immediately threw his hands up in disgust. The Spanish fans in the stadium began to boo rather loudly, and the coach was visibly upset with the referees. Following the commotion, James followed an Anthony missed three with a sick offensive rebound. With Spain in the zone, no one got a body on James, and he soared down the lane to grab the board and finish the putback layin. Navarro responded with a layup in transition following a James missed layup, and Williams countered with a three from the top.
Following the three, Fernandez drew a foul on Durant. Durant grabbed Fernandez as he came off a screen. Following the foul, James went to the bench for a breather. After Fernandez sank his first free throw, James stood up from the bench and began yelling at the referee in order to get his attention. The refs had blundered the number assigned to the foul, and they awarded James the foul instead of Durant. After James and the rest of Team USA's bench had gotten through to the refs, the fix was made. Despite the error, the refs assigned Team USA a warning for their conduct from the bench. After missing his second free throw, Reyes gobbled up the offensive rebound, and Fernandez earned another trip to the line following a holding call on Williams as he came off a screen. Fernandez sank both to cut the score to 58-54 at the 1:22 mark.
Kevin Love responded with an offensive rebound that led to a foul on the putback. Love made one of two. After a Pau missed jumper in the lane, Anthony picked up his third foul as he boxed out and had his arms tangle with Ibaka. This led to Collins' commentary on just letting these off the ball fouls play on, and Ibaka ended up sinking both free throws. Andre Iguodala responded with a strong play near the end of the half by stealing the ball from Ibaka. However, after pushing middle, Iguodala picked up his dribble, and Pau ended up catching up to the play and tipping the ball out of Iguodala's hands from behind. As Iguodala tried to recover the ball, he bobbled it away, and he ended up slightly pulling on Fernandez's leg as he lost his balance going for the loose ball. Fernandez sold the slight pull by acting as if his leg was pulled out from under him and he slammed to the ground. The flop was Oscar worthy, and an unsportsmanlike foul was called on Iguodala. Fernandez made both free throws, but Llull could not get off a shot in time to beat the halftime buzzer.
Team USA entered the half ahead 59-58. Team USA shot 49% from the field, garnered 19 rebounds, shot 8-18 (44.4%) from deep, and committed just five turnovers. Team USA started the game hot from deep by shooting 7-10 in the first quarter, but in the second they dried up and shot just 1-8. The cold shooting allowed Spain to catch up, and Spain won the quarter 31-24. Spain finished the half with 46% shooting from the field. Spain outrebounded Team USA with 21 rebounds, and they shot a higher percentage from deep by dropping 7-13 (53.8%). Spain also committed just five turnovers. With fouls mucking up the game in the second quarter, Team USA could not get out and run. Spain took great care of the ball and did not allow Team USA any chance to blow open the game with a big run.
In the third quarter, the refs decided to let the players decide the outcome. Just eight fouls were called in the quarter. I'm pretty sure Marc was fuming mad as he watched the refs loosen up while he sat on the bench the entire quarter. Paul started things off with a three from the near wing following a James post up on Calderon that led to a double and kick out.
Then the Pau Gasol show started. Pau started things off with a near block post, kickout, and repost. Pau attacked the middle and finished a sweet running hook in the lane over Chandler. Durant tried to wreck Pau's show before it even started, but he ended up missing a thunderous jam down the lane that surely would have been all over SportsCenter. Durant made both free throws with the impressive attempt still buzzing around the stadium. Pau came right back and utilized an isolation at the far block. Pau attacked middle, blew by Chandler, and finished the and-one lefty layup at the rim — and he sank the free throw to make the score 64-63 at the 8:19 mark. Following a missed James fade over Ibaka, Fernandez fed Pau a dunk by running the pick and roll.
With Marc on the bench, Spain played much more man to man defense because they could play Ibaka on James at the four spot. Following Pau's dunk, Bryant posted up Calderon and skipped to Durant for a far side three that clanked. After Navarro and Love traded off missed threes, Pau went to work on Love (he subbed in for Chandler). In an iso from the near block, Pau turned baseline, drop stepped, and finished a one handed layup at the rim — giving Spain a 64-67 lead with 6:35 on the clock. James ended the 7-0 run with a drive by Ibaka for a layup. Following a feed from Ibaka to Pau in the lane, Love attempted to strip the ball, but he got a bit of hand, and Pau sank one of two free throws. With Calderon still on Bryant, Bryant called for the ball at the near wing. Bryant caught the ball, shimmied the ball with a deft swing through, and blew by Calderon baseline for the two handed jam to tie the score at 68. Paul followed with a steal from Calderon that led to an alley oop jam from Durant to James. Spain responded by looking to feed Pau. With Love fronting Pau, Ibaka flashed to the top of the key and sent the lob pass over Love. Pau drew the foul and finished the layup for an and-one — he made the free throw to give Spain the 70-71 lead with 5:02 on the clock. Pau's personal 13 point run was pretty dominant, and as a Lakers fan, I definitely appreciated seeing him play with such aggression.
Following Pau's lead, Bryant and Durant closed the quarter out for Team USA. With Calderon still on him, Bryant once again called for the ball at the near wing. Bryant used a Love pick and he circled to the top to hit a three. The next possession, James pushed up the court and dumped off to a trailing Bryant at the top. Bryant went up for the three and missed, but it definitely looked like he was tapped on the elbow — if that play happened in the second quarter, it would have been three free throws. After Ibaka sank one of two free throws, Durant took a handoff from James to sink a pull up jumper from the free throw line. The shot made Durant the highest scoring American basketball player in one Olympics — Durant: 147 points in London '12, Spencer Haywood: 145 in Mexico City '68, Charles Barkley: 144 in Barcelona '92, Michael Jordan: 137 in Los Angeles '84.
On the ensuing possession, Bryant played some stellar defense on Navarro. After Navarro dropped 19 points in the first half, Bryant asked Coach K for the assignment. Navarro didn't score once on Bryant, and he finished with just two points in the second half. Bryant routinely shut Navarro out of the play with strong denial defense. On this play, Navarro was able to free himself up by coming off of a double screen to the far wing. Bryant battled through, closed out, and then shut off Navarro's drive into the lane. After beating him to the spot and forcing Navarro to pick up his dribble in the lane, Bryant stripped him and pushed the ball the other way. Bryant attacked the rim and dumped off to Durant for an easy layup, but Durant bobbled the ball. Bryant ran down the loose ball to the far corner, and then he attacked baseline and went up for a reverse. Bryant drew a foul and sank both free throws.
Following Bryant's two made free throws, NBC continued it's blunderous coverage of the Olympics. Because this was the gold medal game, the network decided to bring in a larger audience by carrying the basketball game on NBC rather than NBCSP. After Bryant made his second free throw, the camera began to zoom in on the Team USA bench as play continued the other way. It was actually kind of cool to watch all of the guys and see how engaged they were in the play, but then NBC stupidly cut to commercial during live play. NBC showed a 20 second spot for the Mini-Cooper as live play from the gold medal round continued. Seriously, come on!
After coming back to the game, the audience got to see the tail end of Durant hitting a three from the wing. I'm assuming the telecast announcers knew of the mistake, because they gave a quick description of what occurred while America had to sit through a damn Mini-Cooper commercial. A minute later, NBC showed a replay of the missed plays. Pau sent a sweet no look bounce pass to Ibaka in the lane for an easy finish, and then Rodriguez stole a lazy pass from James and he took it the distance for a layup to make the score 77-76 before Durant rained down a three at the 3:10 mark. Following Durant's three, Paul stole the ball from Rodriguez, but he ended up missing the layup in transition, and Rodriguez ended up feeding Pau a dunk in transition the other way.
Following the dunk, Spain went back into their 1-2-2 zone. It immediately paid dividends. Williams attempted to drive and kick, but Rodriguez shot the gap and stole the pass. Ibaka ended up hitting an uncontested turnaround jumper in the lane over Anthony to tie the game at 80 at the 2:15 mark. Following Ibaka, Durant busted the zone with a catch and shoot three from the corner. Team USA would not score in the remaining two minutes. After a missed three from Anthony, Ibaka earned a trip to the line after drawing a foul on Iguodala as he attempted to dunk the ball — he sank both free throws to make the score 83-82 with 27 seconds left in the quarter. Williams tried to send the team out with a banger, but it didn't go according to plan. Williams wound down the clock, danced at the top, crossed up Rodriguez and exploded toward the rim. Williams took off from a pretty far distance, and he cocked back the ball for a hammer dunk, but Ibaka wasn't about to be put on a poster, and he swatted the dunk at the rim. Rodriguez gathered the ball and nearly sank a buzzer beating half court shot. With that block, Team USA was held even in the quarter, 24-24.
With just a one point lead heading into the fourth quarter, Paul gathered Bryant, Durant, Anthony, and James for a huddle on the court before play started. Whatever he said, it must have worked. Team USA scored on the opening three possessions before forcing Spain to take a timeout. James started it off with a layup at the rim. Bryant ran a high pick and roll with James at the far wing, and as Bryant circled to the top, two defenders ran to Durant at the far wing as they confused the switch, thus allowing James to cut to the rim for an easy dish and layin. Llull responded with his own layup. Then Paul pulled off the meanest stepback three I think I've ever seen. Paul broke off Rodriguez with a sick crossover from left to right at the top. Paul accelerated into the crossover as if he was going to blow by Rodriguez to the right. As Rodriguez dropped back to prevent the drive, Paul stopped on a dime and stepped back to the top of the three. Paul pulled up and sank the three as Rodriguez rushed him and actually crashed into him after the ball left his hands. Paul swished the three, and he should have been awarded a free throw for the contact on the body, but the refs swallowed their whistles.
Following a Reyes miss in the lane, Paul performed another sweet little ditty. Paul pushed up the far sideline, got to the far wing, turned his back to the basket and acted as if he was going to use a James pick to circle around and attack the middle. Instead, Paul shimmied his body with a sweet shake, and he exploded baseline to the rim for a layup. Then Durant stripped Reyes in the lane and Paul gathered the ball to get into a fast break. As Paul pushed up the middle, Fernandez lowered his shoulder and plowed into Paul to prevent the break. If any call in the game should have been considered "unsportsmanlike," it was this one. Despite the obvious lack of a play on the ball, the refs called the play a standard foul. Following the foul, Spain took a timeout and Pau reentered the game with his team trailing 90-84 at the 8:13 mark.
James attempted to capitalize with Pau defending him at the wing, but he wound up settling for a three and missing. James made up for it by altering Pau's pull up jumper from the elbow. Then Paul pushed up the court and after a couple of moves he got in the lane and sent a sweet dump off to James in the lane, but James couldn't corral the ball and it flew through his hands and out of bounds. Following the play, Spain ran a high low with Ibaka and Pau, and James ended up rotating into the lane and attempting to strip Pau. Instead, James ended up reaching and swiping Pau across the face. Pau went down, and the cameras showed a pretty good cut across his eyebrow and his nose. The reach marked James' fourth foul, and with Pau forced to head to the bench to get cleaned up, Marc checked back in for the first time since the second quarter. Following a Durant missed three, Marc immediately made his presence felt with a running floater in the lane to make the score 90-86 at the 6:52 mark.
Following Marc's bucket, Team USA went on a 7-1 run. Durant started it off with a three following great ball movement on the perimeter. Facing the 1-2-2 zone, Bryant missed a three from the far side, but Anthony got his hands on the ball and tipped it out. Paul recovered it and began the ball movement. Paul swung to Bryant at the far wing, Bryant sent it back to Paul at the top, and Paul sent it to the open Durant at the near wing for a swish. This would mark Durant's last bucket of the game, leaving him with 156 points in the '12 Games — 11 points higher than Haywood. Following Durant, Paul picked up a steal and this time Fernandez made an actual play on the ball as he took a foul to prevent the break.
In an effort to quell Durant, Spain went into a box-1 defense. Essentially one guy played man to man defense on Durant by face guarding him in an effort to deny the ball. The man to man guy has no responsibilities in help side, his sole mission is to prevent Durant from getting the ball. With the remaining four defenders in a box zone — two at the top and two at the bottom — Bryant capitalized with a far wing pick and roll that led to a pull up three from the near top. Bryant drew the foul on the shot, and he sank two of three free throws to stretch the score to 95-86 at the 6:00 mark. Following a miss from Marc, Anthony tried to bust the box-1 with a three from the far side, but he missed and Navarro fed Pau a trip to the line following a pick and roll — Pau made one of two. Following Pau's bucket, Bryant fired up an open three from the near side after utilizing a flare screen — Bryant missed. Then Anthony took another crack at it and he shot a near corner three. Anthony clanked, but Bryant skied for the offensive rebound in the lane and he hit a fading jumper off the glass from the far block to give Team USA a 97-87 lead with 4:27 remaining. After firing up the three, Anthony came down and landed on the defender's foot, thus twisting his ankle. With Anthony laboring up the court, Spain played five on four, and Navarro hit a pull up jumper at the top of the key to cut the deficit to eight.
With Spain still in the box-1, consecutive Team USA turnovers gave Spain some hope. First Bryant got caught in the air and ended up turning the ball over on an errant pass. Navarro pushed up the court and missed the layup, but Fernandez was right there to follow with the tip in. Then Anthony gobbled up an offensive rebound following a Paul miss. Stuck under the rim, Anthony tried to kick out to Bryant at the near side. Bryant failed to drop to the level of the ball, and Anthony sailed the ball out of bounds. Coach K immediately took a timeout and subbed James back in the game.
With a chance to put Team USA on its heels, Pau missed a shot in the lane that could have cut Spain's deficit to just four points. Instead, James capitalized with a dunk. James stood at the near wing, and as Durant curled up from the near corner, James faked the handoff. As both defenders went with Durant, James unexpectedly had an open lane. It seemed to take James a second to realize that he was wide open, but once he got going, he went straight to the rack for a dunk. Marc responded with a dunk of his own in the lane, but James dropped the dagger on the ensuing possession. With Marc switched onto him as he attacked the middle, James kept his dribble alive and backed out to the top. James danced for a second and then he hit the three from the top over the outstretched hands of Marc. The swish from deep gave Team USA a 102-93 lead with 1:59 remaining.
The ensuing defensive possession, Pau picked up a boneheaded offensive foul as Paul hounded Llull up the court in a one man press. As Llull got off the sideline and began to circle to the middle, Pau leveled Paul with a moving screen. Following misses from both sides, Paul sealed the deal. Paul got Pau to switch onto him in the 1-2-2 zone. Paul danced at the far wing, crossed right to left to attack the middle, and finished an over the shoulder layup off the glass. The shot actually made Coach K jump around like a schoolboy as he yelled "Yes!" — this reaction was probably the most animated Coach K has been in the Olympics.
After seven straight points from Marc, and some split free throws from Paul and James Harden, Spain trailed by six points with 13 seconds remaining. After Paul's trip to the line, Paul, Bryant, Durant, James, and Love checked out to loud cheers and lots of hugs on the sideline. After Harden split his free throws, he left open a possibility for a miracle comeback. With 12 seconds left, Harden headed back to the line. After Harden missed his first shot, the telecast began to seem genuinely concerned as they brought up some of the crazier comebacks in NBA history — Reggie Miller instilled that fear in just about everyone. Despite the worry, Harden sank the second to give Team USA a 107-100 lead. Llull missed a pull up three, and Anthony Davis skied for the rebound and let Paul run out the clock to end the game.
The test against Spain was a great one. The refs definitely placed a stamp upon the game, but in the second half the game was called much looser. I'm sure Marc Gasol will walk away feeling cheated, but he probably should have never been in the game after picking up his third foul. You can blame the ref, but you also have to blame his coach, Sergio Scariolo.
Overall, nothing came easy in this game for Team USA. The first half was bogged down by calls, and in the second half, Team USA never really got out to run in transition — everything was worked for. Team USA finished 34-70 (48.6%) from the field, 15-37 (40.5%) from deep, 24-31 (77.4%) from the line, along with 36 rebounds, 13 assists, seven steals, one block, 10 turnovers, and 27 personal fouls. Spain finished 33-67 (49.3%) from the field, 7-19 (36.8%) from deep, 27-32 (84.4%) from the line, along with 33 rebounds, 22 assists, four steals, one block, 11 turnovers, and 27 personal fouls.
When comparing the numbers, the biggest things to jump out are Team USA's assist numbers, and the lack of turnovers they were able to force. Team USA shot the ball pretty well, so finishing didn't seem to be the problem. I didn't really notice a lot of isolation basketball, but I guess Team USA didn't share the ball all that much — the high number of free throw attempts can attribute to the lack of assists. Also, Team USA's guards were unable to force Calderon, Navarro, and Rodriguez into turning the ball over. In fact, I don't remember the ultimate press man, Westbrook, actually getting up and pressing — maybe this was due to his twisted ankle that he sufferedagainst Argentina.
Leading the way for Team USA was Durant. Durant scored a game high 30 points on 8-18 shooting, 5-13 from deep, 9-10 from the line. Durant also tied for game high honors in rebounds with nine — Love and Ibaka also had nine. James flanked Durant with 19 on 8-13 shooting, 1-3 from deep, 2-2 from the line, and he led the team with four assists. Bryant rounded out the scoring with 17 on 5-10 shooting, 3-7 from deep, and 4-5 from the line. Paul led the game with three steals, and Durant and Ibaka each had the only blocks for their squad. Pau carried Spain with 24 points on 9-17 shooting, 0-1 from deep, 6-8 from the line. Pau also racked up a team high eight rebounds, and he led the game with seven assists. Navarro flanked Pau with 19 points on 7-17 shooting, 4-9 from deep, and 3-3 from the line, but Bryant absolutely shut him down in the second half following his explosive 19 point first half. Marc flanked his brother with 17 points in just 17 minutes as he shot 8-10, and 1-1 from the line. If Marc had gotten more minutes, Spain may have pulled out the victory.
After shaking hands with Spain, most of Team USA huddled up on the floor and began celebrating with dancing and chants. In what must have been a rookie hazing of some sort, Davis ran on the court with a one eyed golden teddy bear of some sort. Most of the team partook in the dancing, but Bryant missed out on the celebration as he shared some words with much of Spain. Bryant also held a long embrace with Pau. I have a feeling Bryant told Pau to carry that aggressive play into the season. After the huddle on the court, some of the guys draped American flags across their backs. Bryant, Durant, and James then held an interview with Craig Sager, and Bryantindicated that this would most likely be his last Olympics. A bit later, Team USA got ready for the ceremony, and they were awarded their gold medals. They guys locked arms and embraced the crowd before receiving their gold medals. Many of the guys bit the gold medal in keeping with an Olympic tradition, and their giddiness was tangible. The guys certainly enjoyed the payoff from all of their hard work this summer.
Since Team USA doesn't have a serviceable nickname, I think I have one for them. Some media have referred to them as the Dream Team, but that's just lazy and unoriginal. Judging off of their play, I think the team should be known as the "Deep Team." The Deep Team utilized their depth and versatility to consistently wear down opponents in order to open up the game. The Deep team also rained down threes in a manner never seen before.
Overall, this team put up some gaudy numbers and set a few records. Durant scored the most points by a U.S. player ever in one Olympics — 156. Durant also set the U.S. competition record for threes made and attempted — 34-65. The Deep Team set a U.S. Olympic record for three pointers made, attempted, and for three point field goal percentage — 129-293 (44.0%). Also, utilizing length and versatility rather than pure size and bulk, the Deep Team also set two more USA competition team records by grabbing 357 rebounds, and averaging 44.6 rebounds per game. Other U.S. Olympic career records also fell — James is now tied with David Robinson for most Olympic games played at 24, and he is number one with 273 points, 113 field goals made, and 88 assists. Also, Anthony is first in U.S. career three point field goals made and attempted — 39-94.
In a breakdown of the Dream Team versus the Deep Team, both teams are on par with each other.
The Dream Team shot 369-638 (57.8%) from the field, 54-135 (40%) from deep, 146-201 (72.6%) from the line. The Dream Team scored 938 total points for 117.3 points per game, grabbed 288 rebounds for 36.0 rebounds per game, dished out 239 assists for 29.9 assists per game, blocked 47 shots for 5.9 blocks per game, and picked up a whopping 177 steals for 22.1 steals per game. The Dream Team average margin of victory was 43.8 points.
Dream Team opponents shot 214-586 (36.5%) from the field, 57-187 (30.5%) from deep, 103-151 (68.2%) from the line, and averaged 73.5 points per game, while pulling down 22.5 rebounds per game, dishing out 13.6 assists per game, blocking 1.6 shots per game, and picking up 13 steals per game.
The Deep Team shot 329-629 (52.3%) from the field, 129-293 (44.0%) from deep, 137-191 (71.7%) from the line. The Deep Team scored 924 points for 115.5 points per game, grabbed 357 rebounds for 44.6 rebounds per game, dished out 200 assists for 25.0 assists per game, blocked 19 shots for 2.4 blocks per game, and picked up 83 steals for 10.4 steals per game. The Deep Team average margin of victory was 32.1 points.
Deep Team opponents shot 244-537 (45.4%) from the field, 61-184 (33.2%) from deep, 118-169 (69.8) from the line, and averaged 83.4 points per game, while pulling down 35.5 rebounds per game, dishing out 17.8 assists per game, blocking 1.9 shots per game, and picking up 3.1 steals per game.
A couple of things pop out. First, the Dream Team and Deep Team were nearly identical with their shooting. Threes brought down the Deep Team's overall percentage, but they were still pretty close from the field, deep, and the line. Both teams nearly scored the same amount of points. Surprisingly, the Deep Team outrebounded the Dream Team. The Dream Team also slightly won the assists battle. Other than rebounds, the Dream Team won all of the defensive categories. The number of steals they pulled off is astounding. I think it's safe to attribute the gaudy defensive numbers to the level of competition. The Dream Team had some stellar defenders, but they also didn't face anyone better than Toni Kukoc or Drazen Petrovic. Also surprising, the Dream Team did not take care of the ball, coughing up an average of about 14 turnovers (13 steals and 1.6 blocks per game).
Overall, both squads dominated, and with the increase in the level of competition, I think it's fair to compare the two squads. The Deep Team bled out points, and didn't come up with nearly as many blocks or steals, but once again, the world has caught up and athletes from all over the world are playing really well — thus pick pocketing someone every time down the court just isn't feasible anymore.
Great job Deep Team, you guys won the gold and did so in an impressive fashion.
Get more great NBA analysis over at Blog is My Medium, Sports is My Message.