The final big event of the Olympic games began with Carmelo Anthony playing extremely well – yes, I was stunned as well. For Team USA this was an added bonus and almost certainly an aberration. Melo wasn’t going to carry this team to Gold. They needed their stars to do what they do. Lebron, Durant, CP3 and Kobe did, leading Team USA to back to back Olympic Gold with a 107-100 victory over Spain.
Melo was in fact very good throughout the tournament, making his case for best sixth man. After a first quarter outburst, the much maligned Knicks Guard was averaging a point per minute during the tournament and the Americans led by eight after one.
In 2008 Ricky Rubio kept the Spaniards in the game with stellar guard play. Out due to injury, Rubio was replaced by Sergio Rodriquez, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon. JC was atrocious, but the play of Navarro and Rodriguez – known in Spain as ‘Spanish Chocolate’ in commemoration of Jason Williams – was enough to match Deron Williams, Paul and Russ Westbrook on the other side. A Rodriguez three at 7:18 in the second quarter cut the American lead to two.
Somehow, Marc Gasol was hit with his fourth foul in the second quarter. Spanish Head Coach Sergio Scariolo’s awful bench management would effectively take Gasol out of the game until the latter portion of the fourth quarter. Gasol’s foul capped a run that featured 32 fouls in 19 minutes – ever think you’d miss NBA officials? The U.S lead was cut to one heading into half-time.
Big brother Pau Gasol spent his break building a time machine. The man at the center of Kobe’s barbs during the NBA playoffs dominated the third quarter, dropping 13 consecutive points while also managing to hurl taunts at Bryant. The U.S, 10-0 all time versus Spain in Olympic play – faced their most daunting task of the tournament, clinging to a one point lead after three quarters thanks to a Kevin Durant three – who, by the way, was lights out again and is now the official leader in points (156) at one Olympic tournament by an American Basketball player.
Scariolo managed to make Coach K look good – still believe Butch Carter could’ve coached this team with the same results – once again, leaving both Gasol brothers on the bench to open the final frame. Two crucial minutes passed before Pau checked back into the game. Marc followed one minute later. By then momentum had made its final turn. A Durant three at the 6:10 mark made it 93-86 for the Americans. Lebron sealed the game as only the king of basketball – regular season MVP, a title, the NBA Finals MVP, and a Gold Medal – can, throwing down a dunk and a deep three in succession to increase the lead to eight.
They did what was expected of them. Kobe’s comments about the 92 Dream Team took on a life of their own. In comparison, that 92 team defeated Croatia 85-32 in their Gold Medal final. While I have a tough time believing this current version of Team USA could compete with that unholy collection of all-time greats, the world has gotten a lot better since then. Argentina’s golden generation, a tiny nation like Lithuania becoming a global basketball force and the presence of at least one NBA player on almost every team is a positive sign for the game in a global sense.
Team USA continues their reign as the best ballers in the world, but the gap gets smaller every day.