After wiping the floor of every opponent other than Lithuania, team USA looked ready for another easy victory. Blowouts over Brazil, Argentina, and Nigeria were only meant to be precursors to a second thumping of Pau Gasol and the Spanish team. But with a healthy Marc Gasol alongside his brother, Spain wasn’t going to crumble at the hands of Team USA’s star-laiden and fast-paced attack.
Juan Carlos Navarro bombed threes over any willing defender, Pau and Marc Gasol punished the Americans inside, showing off post moves not seen since the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and the Spanish kept up with the frantic pace of Chris Paul and the rest of the red, white, and blue. Spain raced out of the gates with one thing on it’s mind, and that was winning a gold medal. No amount of American athleticism or other-worldy skill would deter them from their goal or discourage them from their hopes.
While they were never discouraged, they were defeated. Kevin Durant scored 30 points and hauled in 9 rebounds as he buried 5 3-pointers en route to tallying the most points ever scored in a single Olympics. His relentless onslaught led to Spain’s employing of a box-and-one defense on Durant, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the team. “That was the first time anyone played a box-and-one on me,” Durant said, laughing after the game.
Kobe Bryant paced Team USA’s offense early, scoring 17 points in the game and making a few big plays early in the 4th quarter. His fall away jumper with 4:27 left put the US up by 10, their largest lead at the point in the game.
Durant may have led the way in scoring and Kobe may have initiated the attack, but it was another duo that took over for Team USA down the stretch. Chris Paul scored 8 points in the final quarter, including two huge back-to-back buckets (an incredible step-back 3-pointer and a ridiculous ball fake that led to a wide-open layup) to extend Team USA’s 3-point lead to 8 points. Of course, Spain fought back and kept their deficit to within 6-10 points, clinging to the hope of a last-minute run. When it looked like one might be in order, the best player on the planet stepped up.
LeBron James scored 19 points in the game, but none more important than the 5 that came in the final two-and-a-half minutes. James fooled the Spanish defense with a fake hand off to Kevin Durant and then soared in for an uncontested dunk to extend Team USA’s lead to 8. After Marc Gasol trimmed the lead back to 6 with a layup, LeBron set himself up for the shot of the Olympic games. With Team USA up by 6 points with 2 minutes to go, James sized up Marc Gasol and launched a contested 3-pointer that somehow found the bottom of the net, conjuring up memories of Kobe Bryant’s 4-point play over Rudy Fernandez in Beijing that sealed a 2008 gold medal.
Chris Paul proceeded to twist the dagger as he broke the Spanish defense down in the waning seconds of the shot clock for a layup, putting Team USA up 104-93 with 53 seconds to go. Paul’s game clenching layup prompted a rarely seen jump from Coach K, who soared for a grand total of maybe 8 inches. A reasonable celebration considering his last ever game as the Team USA head coach ended with a bang. When the game clock finally hit zero, Team USA celebrated, and James, who is the second player ever to win regular season MVP, the NBA Finals, Finals MVP and an Olympic gold medal all in the same year (the other being Michael Jordan), opened up two personal sized water bottles to dump on Coach K’s always nicely groomed head.
Kobe Bryant, who won’t be back for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, ended his Team USA career at the center of the podium, drawing the loudest applause of any player as the team was awarded their gold medals to the tune of the United States’ National Anthem. “This is it for me. Four years is a long time,” Bryant said when asked if he’d consider coming back in 2016. “These young guys will give it a go in Rio and I might be there to support them.”
“This is all about USA. It’s not about me,” LeBron told Craig Sager as he looked out into the arena, smiling at the sea of red, white, and blue around him. “It’s about these three letters on our chest.”