In London, Team USA individual brilliance outshone Spain

In a physical yet spirited Olympic final, the US overcame a gritty effort by Spain to capture the men's basketball gold medal.

By , Contributor

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    LeBron James and Kevin Durant of the United States react during the men's gold medal basketball game against Spain at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, in London.
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Team USA, continually battling back against a Spanish team that wouldn’t go away, managed to outlast the Spaniards, 107-100, to win the 2012 London Olympics gold medal in men’s basketball yesterday at the Marshmallow.

The United States' 109-83 victory over Argentina on Friday night, complete with a 62-43 second half scoring clinic, once again set the stage for the US team’s gold medal game rematch with Spain dating from the US's gold medal victory four years ago in Beijing.

Argentina, down by nine points at the half, allowed the U.S. to get in a scoring rhythm in the final two quarters they could never recover from. Kevin Durant scored 19 points, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony added 18 each in a second half run-and-gun, slam dunk exhibition that held fellow NBA star and Argentine guard Manu Ginobili and his teammates all but powerless.

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Said Ginobili, “We had a great run in the first half … We started the third quarter well. And then we blinked.”

Sunday’s game was a contrast in styles, as Spain, with brothers Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, were intent on a grind-it-out in the post strategy, while Team USA countered with its superior athleticism and 3-point shooting. From the start, It was a physical match but was called very tightly – particularly in the first half - where there was a total of 33 fouls called. Both teams were chastened somewhat by the FIBA officials’ close calls; but probably the most critically affected was Spain’s Marc Gasol, who had four fouls with just over six minutes left in the first half. He wound up sitting the rest of the half and all of the third period. This was highly ominous for Spain.

Team USA struggled for momentum most of the game, due in large part to a highly physical and effective Spanish half-court strategy of fouling to prevent fast breaks. At the half, the US led by only one point, 59-58. Doc Rivers, an analyst for NBC Sports, said at halftime that major questions for the US team remained, such as whether they could compete in the post with the Gasol brothers and Ibaka, instead of relying on the 3-point shot, for which they've reportedly received some criticism these games. Rivers then added, “That’s just who they are.”

But in the second half, very much in the manner of their previous games, the US team was able to get some good inside production from Kobe Bryant, playing in his last Olympics, and Chris Paul, in addition to James’ and Durant's outside shooting. And when Marc Gasol re-entered the game In the fourth quarter, his aggressiveness was hampered by having to avoid a fifth and final foul.

Spain, nevertheless got 15 points in the third from Pau Gasol (24 total for the game) and a gutty 21 for the contest from Juan Carlos Navarro, so that by the end of the period the Spaniards kept the score close, down by just one, 83-82.

The US, which had specialized during the London Games in forcing opponent turnovers, began getting butter fingers of their own, and this helped Spain to hang around. The fourth period saw a scoring exhibition by both Durant (30 points) and James (19 points) which allowed the U.S. to slowly pull away. Paul, Bryant and James started seeing daylight in the paint and began to pile up the points. Some clutch free throws by Kobe Bryant and James Harden helped seal the game in the final minutes.

In this win, James joins Michael Jordan as the only player in Olympic history to win an NBA title, the NBA MVP, the Finals MVP and an Olympic gold Medal in the same year. And early in the second half, Durant scored his 147th point of the Games to become the all-time high scorer for a single Olympics.

In the final minute, US head coach Mike Krzyzewski emptied his bench, and the starters began hugging on the sidelines. Krzyzewski, who is coaching his last Olympics, hugged Bryant and James – the latter of whom doused the coach with an improvised Gatorade shower (two water bottles). Krzyzewski was effusive in his praise for James, saying, among other things, “He can play any position well and he’s a great student of the game.”

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