Russia and Argentina will battle for the Bronze
The U.S. continued its dominant run to the gold medal, defeating Argentina 109 - 83 in the semifinals. Team USA's depth and firepower were too much for a top-heavy and height-challenged Argentine team.
After an underwhelming and... controversial group stage, Spain beat Russia earlier, with great performances by Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon and will meet Team USA in the dream final everyone anticipated. Recaps and previews for the bronze and gold games after the jump.
Spain 67 - Russia 59
On the early game, everyone's new least favorite team went against a somewhat surprising contender in Russia. Surprising not because they lacked talent but because they had to play on the July qualifiers in Venezuela to get to the Games. Despite their problems getting to the Olympics, the Russians were one of the more complete and balanced teams in international hoops, with above average, versatile players in pretty much every position and a great coach.
Spain was expected to get to the final game but the way they got there has a lot of people rooting against them. It's undoubtedly not part of the spirit of competition to throw a game, which it certainly looks the Spaniards did against Brazil, so I'm not going to defend them, but when the format of a tournament allows it, it's not uncommon for teams to do it. The Grizzlies threw games to face the Spurs in 2011. It's ugly but it happens and in this instance, it worked.
As for the game, after Russia played a great first half that gave them a an 11-point lead going into halftime, Spain's offense managed to break down their defense in the 3rd quarter and that was it. With Kirilenko and Shved struggling and the 3s not falling, Russia simply didn't have the firepower to keep up with Spain. Pau Gasol scored 16 points and pulled down 12 boards for Spain, which also had significant contributions from Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and the always efficient Jose Calderon.
Team USA 109 - Argentina 83
These two teams met in the group stage and this semifinal game was pretty much a carbon copy of that one: Argentina withstands the first U.S. run, slows down the game, scores enough to keep it close until halftime. After the break it seems Argentina has found a way to make it hard for the U.S. to pull away until a couple of mistakes open the door for a 3-point fueled U.S. run.
Kevin Durant started hitting from outside on the 3rd and it blew the game wide open for the deeper, younger, more talented team to run away with it. The U.S. is at its best when other teams try to force things to play catch-up and it showed once Argentina fell behind. Everyone starts to hit shots and make plays and a fully engaged, firing on all cylinders Team USA is simply too much for other teams to contain.
For Argentina, Carlos Delfino's hot hand and Manu Ginobili immense talent kept them in the game early on but it took a pretty fantastic team effort to go to the break down 8. After some silly turnovers, missed rotations and American offensive rebounds, the game was out of hand and Julio Lamas wisely pulled most of the starters to rest them for the bronze medal game against Russia.
Bronze medal game preview and prediction
Both teams came to the Olympics without the burden of expectations the U.S. and Spain carried but both teams will want to bring home a medal. For Argentina, this is likely the last shot of climbing to the podium they'll have in a long time. Older players like Manu Ginobili, Pablo Prigioni and Leo Gutierrez won't be around for the next Olympics while the aging Scola, Nocioni and Delfino simply aren't good enough to carry an Argentine team without an infusion of young talent that is not coming.
Russia was a basketball powerhouse back when they played as the Soviet Union. Since 2000, however, the highest they finished was 8th in the Olympics and they even missed the Athens Games. For the last 10-15 years Russian basketball has not had major international success except for a lone Eurobasket championship in 2007 while teams like Argentina and Spain surpassed them as the non-U.S.contenders in the eyes of every expert. This could be the beginning of a comeback for one of the world's oldest basketball super powers and it could start with this bronze.
Both teams have stars that they need playing at their peak level and inconsistent benches. Argentina has a better offense while the Russian defense and rebounding is superior. It will come down to who wants it more and who has the better player and in my (undoubtedly biased) opinion, that is Argentina. Argentina wins in a close game that comes down to the wire. Manu gets his 3rd Olympic medal.
Gold medal game preview and prediction
The prospective gold medal game against Spain was expected to be Team USA's greatest challenge from the start. Spain put a scare on Coach K and his team on the last Olympics and has two post threats that could punish the Americans' lack of size and deter dribble penetration. They will miss Ricky Rubio's play but they have the 3-point shooters to hurt the U.S. whenever the not-particularly-disciplined American team gambles on the passing lanes or misses a rotation. They also have players that shine in international competition, like Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro.
Unfortunately for the Spaniards, The U.S seems simply too good for even them to contain. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant will have a significant size advantage over Navarro and Fernandez and Lebron could cause as many problems for Pau Gasol on the offensive end as the Lakers star can cause him on defense. Depth also favors the U.S., who will have Williams, Westbrook, Anthony and Love backing up their starters while Spain has solid but unspectacular players like combo guard Sergio Llull and newly-signed Blazer Victor Claver. Serge Ibaka could be important in this game because of his defensive versatility but I doubt it will be enough to slow down the American offense. One of Bryant, Durant, Anthony or James will get hot and that will decide the game
Team USA wins by a double digit margin after Spain keeps it close during the first half.