Was there actually a curse upon the 2012 Olympic flag-bearers?
Spain has a talented, seasoned men’s basketball team, one that might some day win a gold medal. But in the Olympic basketball tournament that concluded Sunday — on the final day of the London Games — the United States had just a little too much, from too many areas, and the Americans took a 107-100 victory for the gold medal.
Kevin Durant led the United States with 30 points, and in the final minute, when stars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Durant came out of the game, each embraced Coach Mike Krzyzewski. James added 19 despite foul trouble and made several key plays down the stretch, and Bryant had 18.
“A lot of teams have won gold easy. We didn’t want it that way,” LeBron James told the AP. “We’re a competitive team and we love when it gets tight. That’s when our will and determination kind of shows. It was the same way in ‘08.”
The gold medal was the Americans’ fifth in the six Olympic tournaments since NBA players began participating. But it was perhaps the hardest fight, because Spain — a 118-107 loser to the United States four years ago in Beijing — has improved.
Even as Spain — down by just one at the half and one after three quarters — pushed the Americans, their record since their bronze-medal finish at the 2004 Athens Games is stunning. The United States last lost in 2006 to Greece, and it is now 62-1 under Krzyzewski, who has said he will step down from his position as coach following the London Olympics.
Point guard Chris Paul helped the Americans establish something of a lead with a three-pointer and a drive down the lane on consecutive possessions early in the fourth, providing a 90-84 advantge. That was part of a 12-3 American run that put the United States up 97-87.
With less than three minutes remaining, the Americans made plays at both ends of the court that all but sealed the gold. LeBron James first drove the lane for a powerful dunk, then hit a three-pointer from the left wing to push the lead to 102-93. On Spain’s next possession, Paul drew a foul on Spain’s Pau Gasol, who set an illegal screen, and with 1:52 left the Americans had the ball and a nine-point lead.
Paul then finished things off with a driving layup that beat the shot clock with juts under a minute left, and the Americans were on the verge of celebrating.
The U.S. men’s basketball team has one more quarter of work to win its second straight gold medal. But against a game team from Spain, that’s exactly what it will be: work.
The United States leads Spain 83-82 after three quarters, getting all it can handle from Pau Gasol and company. Gasol has 23 points to lead Spain, which played the entire quarter without Pau’s brother Marc, who was in foul trouble. Kevin Durant scored 10 in the third quarter and leads the Americans with 27 points.
Gasol twice gave Spain the lead early and midway through the quarter, first with a jam to go up 65-64, then with a bucket in the lane on which he drew a foul for a three-point play and a 71-70 advantage.
But Kobe Bryant, Gasol’s teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers, responded immediately with a three-pointer to stabilize the U.S. team. Serge Ibaka’s move in the lane with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter tied the game at 80, but on the very next possession Durant nailed a three-pointer from the right wing to put the Americans up by three again.
Ibaka’s two free throws closed the scoring in the quarter. The U.S. men’s national team hasn’t lost a game since 2006.
If the United States is going to blow out Spain in the Olympic gold medal men’s basketball game, it will have to happen in the second half. Spain showed resilience in the second quarter and trails only 59-58 at halftime.
Kevin Durant leads the United States with 17 points. But after hitting 7 of 10 three-pointers in the first quarter, the Americans made only 1 of 9 in the second.
After trailing by as many as nine points three times in the first quarter, Spain opened the second period with seven straight points, including a three-pointer from Rudy Fernandez. When Sergio Rodriguez nailed a three from the left wing, Spain had a 12-2 run to start the quarter and a 39-37 lead.
One key spot for the United States: midway through the quarter, Spain big man Marc Gasol, Pau’s brother, scrambled for an offensive rebound and was called for a foul on Kevin Love. The foul was Gasol’s fourth, and his departure lessened perhaps Spain’s most significant advantage: size.
From there, the United States took advantage of Love’s size, getting him to the line. Derron Williams’s three-pointer with just under two mintues remaining pushed the U.S. advantage to 58-51, and the Spanish coaching staff and crowd began to get frustrated with the officiating crew.
Kevin Durant scored 12 points to lead another American three-point barrage as the United States took a 35-27 lead after one quarter of its gold medal game against Spain.
The Americans, who entered the game hitting a tournament-high 45 percent from three-point range, buried 7 of 10 three-pointers in the opening quarter. Durant finished the period by swatting away a three-pointer from Spain’s Pau Gasol.
Spain got off to a fine start behind captain Juan-Carlos Navarro, a sharp-shooting guard. Navarro opened the scoring for Spain by drilling one three-pointer on which he was fouled, then burying two more in the game’s first four minutes. That helped Spain build a 12-7 lead.
But the defining characteristic of this tournament has been the Americans’ astonishing number of weapons, scorers who beat opponents from all angles and seem to have no lack of range. Kobe Bryant pulled the United States ahead with a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around Kevin Durant’s two free throws, and then Carmelo Anthony — who somehow doesn’t start — came off the bench to hit a three-pointer, then a jumper after an up-fake, then another three.
Just like that, the United States built a 25-16 lead.
So it comes to this: a coronation or a catastrophe. The U.S. men’s basketball team, undefeated and all but unchallenged in the Olympic tournament, faces Spain at 10 a.m. Eastern time for the gold medal, a rematch of the 2008 Olympic title game that the Americans are heavily favored to win.
What’s going against the Spaniards: The United States has won all 10 previous games in the Olympics against Spain, including the final four years ago in Beijing, a 118-107 American victory. The only time the United States has lost a final was the epic upset in 1972 at the hands of the Soviet Union.
Spain is led by Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Laker, who is averaging 18.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The Americans’ come-at-you-from-all-angles attack is nominally led by Kevin Durant at 18.0 points per game, with Carmelo Anthony just behind at 17.4 points per game. The Americans are shooting a remarkable 53 percent from the floor and 45 percent on three-pointers.
This marks the last game for U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the 2008 team to gold and says he will return full-time to his job coaching Duke University once the games end.
Russia won its first Olympic men’s basketball medal since the breakup of the Soviet Union, defeated Argentina, 81-77, for the bronze medal.
“For my players to be part of history, to be role model for Russian basketball, it is a proud, proud moment,” said American David Blatt, who coached the Russian team.
Argentina took a 77-76 lead with 43 seconds remaining when Manu Ginobili hit two free throws. After a Russian timeout, Alexey Shved hit a three-pointer with 37 seconds left. Vitaliy Fridzon added two free throws with five seconds remaining to seal the win.
“We are very angry right now,” said Ginobili, who led Argentina with 21 points. “We feel a lot of remorse because we didn’t do things as good as we were supposed to. We made a lot of mistakes. We let Russia stay in the game and then Shved hit three three-pointers and he decided the game.”
Shved finished with 25 points and Andrei Kirilenko had 20 for Russia. Fridzon added 19.