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And after much discussion and hype, here we are. It’s the much-anticipated gold-medal showdown between Team USA and Spain. It’s time to see if the “weaknesses” all the pundits foreshadowed in the U.S. front line can be exposed by the brothers Gasol along with partner in crime (sort of) Serge Ibaka. Lord knows they might have to give the latter more than 10 minutes on the court tonight if they want that gold medal. Let’s get to it.
- First off, a disclaimer: I spent all night playing poker and watching “Blades of Glory” with my Canadian cousins last night, then slept on a bunk above one of said cousins, who snores louder than a lawn mower. I’m on very little sleep, and today you get grumpy Ben Dowsett. I’m sure you’ll survive.
- Heh, great start. Kobe fouls Navarro on a three point attempt, which Navarro also swishes. U.S.A. will need to have their heads screwed on straight today, especially if the support guys on Spain are playing well.
- Interestingly enough, it’s been Tyson Chandler on Pau Gasol with LeBron on Marc Gasol the first few possessions. I had assumed they’d do the opposite with Marc being the beefier of the two.
- Navarro hits another triple off the inside-outside game. This is going to be a real contest if he keeps this up. And his beard can threaten James Harden’s. (Editor’s note: Navarro wishes.) Not a good sign.
- Durant is fouled hard on a fast break for an Unsportsmanlike Foul. Can’t imagine it’ll be the last one; these teams are charged up and ready to do battle. It’s knotted up at 12 early on as Spain is hitting their distance shots.
- Navarro is keeping Spain in the game so far. He has 12 of their first 16 points and hasn’t missed a shot yet. Until, just as I finish writing this, of course, he misses a floater.
- The Americans are getting it together, sinking three consecutive triples and tightening down on defense to open up a nine-point advantage. Carmelo is once again on his game, taking consecutive feeds from LeBron for threes.
- Spain is going to the zone defense early and often, but Coach K has the U.S. prepared. LeBron and Deron Williams are taking turns getting penetration and forcing rotations. It would be foolish to expect this team to continue to be stymied by a zone with all the talent and basketball IQ on their roster.
- KD has his game face on. Spain has left him open a few times and has regretted it each and every occasion. More importantly, his hustle game is in full flow, as he deflects a pass with less than five seconds to go to stop a fast break for Spain as the quarter runs out. After the ensuing inbound, he comes out of nowhere to emphatically swat at attempted three at the buzzer by Pau Gasol. As has become his habit, Durant is stepping up when it matters.
- With the aforementioned block, the first quarter ends 35-27 for the USA. The game hasn’t been perfect but you can tell they are focused; there have been no mental lapses to speak of thus far. They’ll need to keep it up and the shots will fall as they may.
- The lead evaporates as quickly as it came as the second starts, as Spain gets a few stops and cuts it to one. The crowd is pro-Spain and this doesn’t feel like a game that is going to get blown open by either side. Spain gets too energized when they string together a couple baskets for the U.S. to be able to put together a big run so far.
- With just under seven minutes to go in the half, Spain has already reached the foul limit and the U.S. will be shooting free throws for the remainder of the quarter. LeBron immediately goes right at Ibaka and draws his second to get to the line. He needs to be in attack mode for the entirety of these final six minutes.
- Looks like Ibaka is going to get his minutes today. Marc Gasol picks up a tacky fourth foul with five minutes to go in the second quarter and is steamed up about it. He has a right to be upset about that last one, but it’s his own fault for having three already.
- The game remains tight, both in the score and in the refereeing. The stripes aren’t being shy with their whistles so far for either side. Both teams have been in the penalty for the better part of this second quarter and the game is relatively choppy as nearly every possession is ending with a trip to the line.
- Honestly, it’s getting a little ridiculous now. The last five minutes have taken well over a half hour to play because there is literally a whistle on nearly every single play. The refs have got to let these guys play a little bit more, no one wants to watch a game like this; there have been 32 fouls called already and we aren’t even finished with the first half.
- The half mercifully ends, 59-58 USA. We had a basketball game for a while but it developed into a free throw-shooting contest as the refs took a fairly ridiculous amount of control over the game late in the half. It’s clear Team USA isn’t where they want to be, but it’s honestly hard to point out too much they’re doing wrong specifically. One criticism is that they need to pick up the pace and stop Spain from being able to settle in their half-court defense so often. 58 points isn’t exactly indicative of strong defense, either, but you do have to account for the parade to the line. For the most part, however, they just need to keep up the effort and be aware that the whistles are going off at the slightest touch and they need to be careful.
- Navarro has 19 points at the half, tops for the game. It’s hard to imagine him keeping up this pace. For as much as a one point lead seems uncomfortable, it may be just what Team U.S.A. needs to stay motivated going forward. I still feel like they are the better team having the better game, if they can stay disciplined and not allow the refs to determine the game, they should be fine.
- Spain starts off strong and quickly has a two point lead. Team USA could quickly be approaching the danger zone here if they can’t start knocking down some shots.
- Kobe is dialed in, hitting a three and getting a dunk. The USA still can’t catch a break, though, as they continue to be whistled for a foul on nearly every defensive possession. They have to keep themselves from getting frustrated here, even if I can’t do the same.
- LeBron is not doing enough right now. He needs to step up the aggression on both ends of the court. He isn’t setting the tone on defense and the US is allowing an unacceptable amount of points.
- The quarter ends as it started, with the USA up one, 83-82. This is getting worrisome now as the U.S. can’t stop the Pau Gasol or the refs. They’re going to need their big players to step up in the final 10 minutes if they don’t want to go down as a colossal disappointment.
- Chris Paul makes a three followed by a crafty play for a wide open layup, something the Americans have been short on in this one. He ignites a mini-run and the US goes up by six.
- LeBron is still off his game. He misses a three, can’t get the handle on a pass from Paul for an easy dunk, and then takes his fourth foul down low against Gasol. He has to leave the game with seven minutes to go and they’ll have to get by without him.
- The fouls continue to pile up on the USA but they are pushing through, building an eight point lead. It quickly dwindles to six, though, and we are down to crunch time with just three and a half minutes to go. LeBron is coming back in and U.S.A. will be looking to him to take them home.
- James breaks his coverage for a dunk to get the lead back up to eight. There are now under three minutes to go and this one is tight. Then he hits a clutch three with Gasol in his face to get it up to nine, following a dunk on the other end. He hasn’t been excellent all night but he’s continuing to prove his doubters wrong by taking care of business when it matters.
- CP3 and LeBron will be the talking points after this game. Paul follows LeBron’s clutch plays with a ridiculous layup in traffic as the shot clock expires, stretching the lead to 11 and all but ending the game with under a minute to go. It’s been a close game throughout but the better squad has ultimately pulled through and the US is going to go home golden once again. Time for 30 seconds of Unibrow, the perfect way to close the game out.
- Whoa, I wasn’t ready for this. Kobe is in tears on the sideline, showing a remarkable amount of emotion. I can’t deny that I’m not the dude’s biggest fan, but you can’t say he doesn’t care. Yet another sign of how well these guys understand how special this team is. Final score 107-100 USA.
- The celebration is on for the Americans now as LeBron soaks Coach K with a couple water bottles after doing his Finals dance (he should work on his moves if he plans on winning things in the future.)
- They probably didn’t plan on having it be so close, but you can see the relief on their faces as they celebrate. Chris Paul especially deserves it here; he was the unsung hero for Team U.S.A. in the final game. He played incredibly hard and hit a clutch basket late to ice the game. LeBron, Kobe and Durant are the ones being interviewed but don’t think CP3 will go unappreciated in that locker room.
- And that’s a wrap on the 2012 Olympic Basketball Tournament. Props to the repeat champs from the USA in what could be the final time we see the top players from the NBA in competition. As a basketball nerd, I know I was savoring every minute of this, knowing we might never see a combination of talent like this on the same team again if David Stern has his way. You can tell the players were too, and that makes it all the more special. They deserve the party that they’ll certainly be having tonight before heading back to the states to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. October can’t come fast enough as I count down the minutes until we get to watch these guys play against each other. Thanks for reading, everyone.
By Ben Dowsett (@ben_dowsett)
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