He was not speaking of the Americans’ 109-83 victory over Argentina, a game blown open by a barrage of three-pointers in the third quarter. He wasn’t speaking of Sunday’s game for the gold against Spain, which came back to beat Russia in Friday’s other semifinal.
Even as the millionaires on the United States team get caught up in the Olympic spirit — and Bryant, maybe more than any, has been to watch other events around the city — there are reminders that their day jobs are back across the Atlantic Ocean. So when Howard, one of the game’s dominant centers, was dealt from Orlando to Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers late Thursday, the seismic plates of the NBA began to shift, and each and every NBA player here felt them.
Bryant was at the fulcrum of the American players’ thoughts.
“They didn’t say much to me,” Bryant said, and smiled.
Were they upset, now that the Lakers have not only Bryant and Howard, but were able to keep Pau Gasol — an opponent with Spain come Sunday — and add point guard Steve Nash?
“I heard that they are,” Bryant said, and he smiled again.
This side story should not take away from what happened here Friday, when the Americans made 18 of 42 three-pointers, five from Kevin Durant and four more from Carmelo Anthony, who scored 19 and 18 points, respectively. When Anthony put Argentina away by nailing three-pointers on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter, Durant, LeBron James (18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) and point guard Chris Paul danced on the sidelines, little kids smiling broadly, the Olympics their only focus.
At that moment, Durant’s thoughts about the trade — “I really don’t care,” he said afterward — seemed believable. But the reality is that it was an issue for the American team. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder must now go through a tougher Lakers team if it’s to repeat as Western Conference champions. And U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski met with forward Andre Iguodala Friday afternoon, just to gauge his mind-set after he ended up moving from Philadelphia to Denver in the four-team deal.
“They handled it professionally,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re here to represent their country.”
And they did, remaining the only unbeaten team here, winning their seven games by an average of 35.7 points. The Americans will face Gasol and the Spaniards only because Spain overcame a poor-shooting first half against Russia. Spain trailed by 11 at the break before Gasol and guard Jose Calderon led them back for a 67-59 win.
“They’re going to be tough,” Bryant said.
In 2008, the United States took a 118-107 decision over Spain in the gold medal game. This Spanish team might be better. And immediately after defeating Russia, the Spanish players tried to spin the tale so the Americans felt heat.