As the final basketball game on the final day of the 2012 London Olympics came to a close, there was a familiar sense of deja-vu in the air. We had seen this all before four years ago in Beijing. Here was Team USA, the odds on favourites for the gold medal, a lineup spoilt in riches with the world’s best basketball players, who had ruthlessly destroyed most challengers on their stomp to the Final. Here was Spain, considered by many to be the world’s second-best team, doing the improbable: executing perfectly to stay neck-to-neck with the USA despite a relatively inferior roster.
Four years ago, when Spain threatened to upset the American ‘Redeem Team’ in the Final, the USA finally stabalised themselves in the fourth quarter behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade to win the gold. Last night, the chief perpetrators along with Kobe were Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and LeBron James, and the final result was the same. USA repeated as Olympic Gold medalists and rightfully regained the pedestal at the top of the basketball world with a 107-100 victory.
Spain made them sweat for it. USA required a 30 point, 9 rebound night from Kevin Durant and 19 points and a couple of clutch baskets by LeBron James, and 17 from Kobe Bryant to survive for the victory. Spain made the most of their advantages through the course of the game, relying on their size advantage of Pau Gasol (24 points 8 rebounds), Marc Gasol (17) and Serge Ibaka, and the on-point outside shooting of Juan Carlos Navarro (21 points) and Rudy Fernandez. But in the end, the brave Spanish contingent just couldn’t keep up with the string of talented closers on the American side.
The USA completed the tournament undefeated with an 8-0 record, and were by far the highest-scoring side in the championship, averaging 115.5 points per game. USA’s leading scorer was Durant, who averaged 19.5 ppg in the course of the tournament, followed by Carmelo Anthony. USA defeated Australia in the Quarter-Final and then rivals Argentina in the Semi with an easy 109-83 win before setting up the Final rematch against Spain.
For long stretches of the tournament, Spain looked a shell of the side that had won a silver medal in Beijing and last year’s EuroBasket championship. Despite consistently good play by Pau Gasol, Spain dropped three of their five group stage games, before pulling their socks up to defeat France and Russia – both on exciting comebacks – to reach the Finals. Russia – led by the brilliant Andrei Kirilenko – perhaps looked the more deserving side until the second half of the Semi-Final, when Spain made a barrage of threes to turn the score around and win 67-59.
Russia did get some respite a few days later though, as they won the Bronze Medal against Argentina on Sunday in a close contest, 81-77. Russia were led by Alexey Shved (25), Andrei Kirilenko (20), and Vitaly Fridzon (19). Manu Ginobili had a team-high 21 for Argentina.
It was an exciting Men’s tournament, with memorable performances by Durant, Anthony, and LeBron for the USA, Pau Gasol for Spain, Andrei Kirilenko for Russia, Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola for Argentina, Tony Parker for France, Marcelinho Huertas for Brazil, and the tournament’s leading scorer (21.2 ppg) Patty Mills for Australia.
But the Men’s tournament wasn’t the only platform where the US dominated. They featured an even more-imposing lineup in the Olympics Women’s Basketball Championship. By far and wide the strongest basketball team in the world, the American Women’s team won their fifth consecutive gold medal at the Olympics with an 86-50 demolition of France on Saturday. USA were led by the prodigal Candice Parker’s 21 points in the final.
USA featured a balanced attack with Diana Taurasi, Angel McCoughtry, Tina Charles, and Candace Parker leading the charge to finish with a perfect 8-0 tournament. They defeated Australia in the Semi-Final game 86-73 to enter the final, while France defeated Russia 81-64 earlier in their semi-final game.
The Women’s Bronze Medal game was also played on Saturday, and Australia beat Russia 84-74 to end at third place.