The U.S.-Spain titanic showdown in the gold-medal game lived up to all the hype. The game hung in the balance until the final quarter when Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James made crucial baskets to give the U.S. enough separation from a very game Spanish squad led by Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Juan Carlos Navarro.
The United States held off Spain, 107-100, to win its fifth gold medal in men’s basketball in the last six Olympics.
Even though the U.S. was the better team and certainly deserved to be crowned Olympic champions, Spain has to feel incredibly disappointed in the outcome because it pushed Team USA to the limit only to watch the game slip away thanks to few curious decisions by Spanish head coach Sergio Scariolo.
With about six minutes left to play in the first half, Spain center Marc Gasol picked up his third foul. That usually leads to a quick substitution, but Scariolo inexplicably left Gasol on the court for another two minutes and the 7-footer — who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies — picked up his fourth foul while trying to grab a rebound. The game was close and there was no need for Gasol to be in the game. That mistake proved costly because Gasol was forced to sit the entire third quarter, in which the U.S. surged ahead and built a small lead, and did not check in until early in the fourth quarter.
Another questionable move came late in the fourth when Scariolo junked Spain’s 2-3 zone defense in favor of a box-and-one gimmick to try to slow down Kevin Durant. The move is not out of the ordinary, but Pau Gasol said Spain had never practiced that type of defense.
The confusion caused a breakdown on the back end, including a play when two Spanish players stuck with Durant and left LeBron with a wide open lane for an easy dunk.
Despite all of Scariolo’s questionable decisions, the Spaniards still had a chance to win the gold medal and it took some clutch baskets by Chris Paul and LeBron James to avert one of the biggest upsets on Olympic history.
Paul scored seven of his 11 points in the final quarter, including a tough scoop shot with 50 seconds left that even got Coach K off his chair. Paul’s layup gave the U.S. a 104-93 lead, and the 11-point cushion proved to be too much of a deficit for Spain, which has now lost to the U.S. in back-to-back gold-medal games in the Olympics.
Durant had a spectacular game for the U.S., leading all scorers with 30 points. His 156 total points in the tournament set a new Olympic record, moving ahead of American Olympic stars Spencer Haywood (1968), Charles Barkley (1992), and Michael Jordan (1984).
Durant was so good in the gold-medal game Spain paid him the ultimate compliment by junking their normal 2-3 zone defense and switching to a box-and-one scheme in the fourth quarter to try to cool down the Oklahoma City Thunder star, who had 27 points through three quarters.
But Durant also got plenty of help from LeBron (19 points) and Kobe (17 points). Kobe saved his best games in the knockout round while LeBron capped off a sensational summer by becoming the second player to win NBA regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP, NBA title and Olympic title in the same year, joining Jordan.