Fri, September 20, 2013

U.S. wins Olympic basketball gold again

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Lebron James (R) of the U.S. celebrates with teammate Kevin Durant during their men's gold medal basketball match at the North Greenwich Arena in London during the London 2012 Olympic Games Sunday. (REUTERS)


LONDON - For those who argue that it's time to rid the Olympic men's basketball tournament of NBA stars in an effort to make the tournament more balanced, Sunday's gold medal game offers proof that the format is fine just the way it is.

Yes, the Americans won for the second Olympics in a row, defeating Spain for the second straight time. But it wasn’t a blow out. The all-star laden U.S. team didn’t make their opponents look like minor leaguers. There was no boys-against-men scenario on the North Greenwich Arena court. The game was a highly-entertaining nail-biter — Spanish team precision against American star power ­— that saw the lead change 19 times and the U.S. ultimately producing a 107-100 victory.

Not until Miami Heat superstar LeBron James hit a three-point shot with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter to give the U.S., a nine-point lead did the Americans finally breathe a sigh of relief and start celebrating on the bench.

“We have an incredible team, we love when it gets tight,” said James. “That’s when our will and determination shows. It was the same in 2008. We played against those guys (Spain), who are a great team and much respect to them.”

The U.S., led by as much as 10, but every time they started a run, Spain pushed back, and even grabbed the lead midway through the third. For a time in the fourth, it was a one-point game.

In the end, only by coming together as a team, were the Americans able to finally pull away, largely on the inspired play of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who produced 30 points and nine rebounds, while drawing nine fouls. James added 19 points with seven rebounds and four assists while Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers kicked in 17.

But the best Laker on the day was Spain’s court leader Pau Gasol, who was an inspiration to his teammates throughout the game. Despite getting the king’s ransom of attention on the floor, a bruised and battered Gasol, who took a finger in the eye from James in the third quarter, stood tall, scoring 24 points with eight rebounds and seven assists. Juan-Carlos Navarro, who plays for Barcelona in the Spanish league, added 21 points. Toronto Raptors’ point guard Jose Calderon struggled and managed only two boards and one assist in 17 minutes.

The only real question mark on the American team heading into the Olympic tournament was a supposed lack of size. The U.S., front court players did have their hands full with the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc. Marc, a star centre with the Memphis Grizzlies, scored 17 before running into foul trouble midway through the game. In the final analysis, the U.S., out-rebounded Spain 37-35 and scored 45 points from beyond the arc on 37 attempts.

“A lot of people doubted us because they said we were a small team, but we proved them wrong,” said Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams. “Spain has two really big guys from the NBA. Luckily Marc missed some of the game because he got into foul trouble and we exploited that.”

“We didn’t expect to come out and blow them out of the water,” he added. “We would’ve liked to though.”

“I think they had to play their best game to beat us tonight,” added Calderon. “It happened four years ago. It’s tough right now, but in a couple of hours it will be much better because it’s not easy to get a silver medal. This is unbelievable what we’ve been doing with this team. We have a great team and that I love to be part of it.”

The win was the eighth straight for the Americans in London, though certainly their toughest, and the gold medal represented the 14th time the U.S. walked away with top honors in Olympic basketball.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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