The US men’s basketball team proved that talent and team play could overcome a shortfall in size as they beat an inspired Spain 107-100 to win the Olympic gold on Sunday.
With Kevin Durant leading the way with 30 points, and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant backing him up, the US retained their Olympic title in a repeat of the closely fought 2008 final in Beijing.
Spain, relying on the inside game of Pau Gasol and the outside shooting of Juan-Carlos Navarro, gave the powerhouse US team their most serious test after the US had won their first seven games by an average margin of 35 points.
“The closer the game got, the more intense we got, the more focused we got,” Bryant said.
Spain, featuring a towering front court, with Pau Gasol, his younger brother Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka camping out under the basket, were much bigger in the lane, but they could not quite match the US’ scoring punch in the end.
Pau Gasol, who has won two NBA titles as a teammate of Bryant’s on the Los Angeles Lakers, glowered at Bryant after he was fouled at one point, but at the end of the game the two had a long hug on the court.
“They’re very talented, very gifted players. They can score in bunches and you have to give them credit,” Gasol said. “I feel proud of our silver.”
Both teams rushed the ball up the court in non-stop action to the roaring delight of the 20,000 fans packed into the North Greenwich Arena and they were separated by just one point at halftime at 59-58.
The US were still clinging to their one-point lead at 83-82 going into the fourth quarter, before point guard Chris Paul and James took control at the start of the final quarter to give the US some breathing space.
The US built a nine-point lead at 95-86 midway through the fourth, with Durant and Bryant taking turns scoring.
After Spain’s Juan-Carlos Navarro sank a jumper and Rudy Fernandez tapped in a follow shot on a fast break, James took the spotlight with a drive he finished with a volatile slam and a three-pointer that restored the US’ cushion.
James, who added London gold to his NBA Most Valuable Player award, his NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award and the NBA title he won with the Miami Heat, had 19 points, the second-highest scorer for the US.
“We just wanted to continue to share the ball, continue to make plays, but it starts with stops,” said James, who also had a team-high four assists. “If we don’t get defensive stops, we don’t build that lead. It’s a one-point lead going into the fourth, and we were able to build that lead and that’s what it’s about.”
With 15 three-pointers, the US more than doubled the seven long-range shots made by Spain, who had to work harder to keep up with the US sharpshooters.
Gasol, who scored the first 13 points for his team at the start of the third quarter to help them take a 71-70 lead, topped the scoring list for Spain with 24 points.
The first half of the game was marked by some rough physical play, with several hard fouls taken. Each team was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty and the US bench was warned they would be penalized if they continued to complain.
“It was a beautiful game of basketball,” said the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol, who was hit with his fourth foul midway through the second quarter, yet still scored 17 points for Spain. “Our team did a great job out there. We just couldn’t pull it off.”