It's finally over! Team USA took on a bigger, high-octane Spanish team and walked off the court Olympic gold medalists yet again. Take the jump to read the quarter-by-quarter recap and why, aside from receding hairline jokes, I will never make fun of LeBron James again.
On the morning following Team USA's victory against Australia (not Argentina), I wrote the following about the LeBron James:
LeBron may not be the most lovable guy in sports, but that man is easily the best basketball player in the world and his game deserves to be admired. You'll miss him when he is gone, and it would be a shame to let some opinions of his life decisions get in the way of absorbing basketball nirvana. Trust me on this one.
It wasn't even a year ago when seemingly the entire sports world was jumping upon the "LeChoke" joke train, firing any shot they could muster at the self-titled King (I'm guilty too). But it was all too easy then. James was still swallowing the biggest serving of crow any man had ever been handed while the rest of us derisively chimed "Not two, not three" through each passing day.
Yeah, I get it. James is a bit of a <insert unpleasant social title here> but I tend to wonder where we, those who squealed with each jabbing of the fun stick, stand in comparison to him. "Not any higher" is my guess. But the last laugh was LeBron's, and after winning his first title and his second Olympic gold medal (third medal overall) within a span of two months, King James is still snickering at us. LeBron has finally freed himself from the plateau that has held many great players below championship fame, and James is still on the rise. The question, again, is how high does he go?
On to the gold medal game.
If you love shootouts, then (most) of the first half of this gold medal match-up was a treat for for you. Team USA was unstoppable from deep in the first quarter, hitting 7 of their 10 3PT shots while also knocking down several mid-range jumpers. Although USA's put up 35 first quarter points on 57 FG%, Spain kept the American's within their reach, thanks to Navarro's work beyond the arc and from the free throw line. With his impressive 14 point output, Spain trailed only by 8, 35-27, going into the second quarter.
Spain continued their hot shooting in the second quarter, going on a 12-2 run and taking the lead against a struggling, and frustrated, Team USA. After draining a 3PT shot to give Spain the lead, guard Sergio Rodriguez delivered a shot to Tyson Chandler's abdomen as Tyson was setting a pick. Both players started yelling at one another, which led to a double-technical. After that point, the game evened out but primarily due to the tightened leash by the officials. The officials took control midway through the second and both teams become increasingly frustrated with the calls and the hindered pace. Marc Gasol "earned" his fourth foul with more than half the quarter to play, with Rodriguez picking up his third before end of the half. For Team USA, Anthony and Williams both picked up their third fouls in the second quarter, while four of their teammates all received their second. The second quarter was relegated to a battle at the charity stripe with Spain winning 21-18, including a 7-1 free throw run in the final 90 seconds that closed the gap to 59-58 at halftime.
Despite the whistle-happy officiating, Spain blitzed Team USA's smaller front court with veteran Pau Gasol. The Laker's power forward went 5-for-5 from the floor and 2-of-3 from the free throw line to give Spain's first 12 points of the second half. Gasol would add another two points later on in the third but the rest of the quarter belonged to the high-flying Serge Ibaka, who finished the third with seven points, a couple rebounds, and a block. Team USA managed to hold back Spain with a two-punch combo of their own. Kevin Durant dropped in 10 third quarter points while LeBron earned 7 of his 19 to keep the Spaniards down by one, 83-82, going into the final quarter.
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Team USA pushed their lead out to 10 with a Kobe Bryant jumper. Spain quickly responded with a quick 4 point, one-minute spurt to keep it a fight with plenty of time to go. After a Carmelo Anthony turnover made things even more nerve wreaking, LeBron James took over with a strong drive to and dunk followed by a Marc Gasol contested 3PT shot that gave Team USA a 9 point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Spain lost their opportunity of coming back again when Pau Gasol turned the ball over on the following possession. The two teams traded shots until the final buzzer sounded with the Americans on top, 107-100.
And back-to-back Olympic Champions.