After 2008′s USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team took home the gold, they were dubbed the Redeem Team in a reference to the 1992′s Dream Team. Their Olympic dominance took a hit in Athens in 2004, after losing to Argentina in the semifinals and taking home the bronze. However in 2012, team USA was not just after the gold, but also after the title of best Olympic team ever, currently held that 1992 team featuring Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and other all time NBA greats.
There are many quality international opponents, many with multiple NBA players. Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and Spain all posed big challenges for the Americans. Most would say this international competition was much better than the teams the 1992 Dream Team had to endure.
The US had five games in group play, starting with a good France team with NBA notables Tony Parker, Mickael Pietrus, and Nicolas Batum. The US’s good defense simply stiffled the Frenchmen, forcing them to shoot only 39.6% including 2-22 from three point range. France fell to the Americans, 98-71.
In their next game, they were matched up against an undermanned Tunisia team. The Tunisians posed no real threat to the US from the tipoff, shooting only 36% to the US’s 73%. Six USA players scored in double figures and Coach Mike Kryzewski used it as a tune up game for future opponents, emptying the bench in the second half. The final score was 110-63.
Records fell when the US squared off against Nigeria. Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, mainly because of his 10-12 mark from three, in only 14 minutes of play. The 37 points was the most an American has ever scored in Olympic play and the 10 three pointers made broke a record held by Stephon Marbury for most threes made in an Olympic tournament. As a team, the US shattered Olympic scoring record, previously held by Brazil in a game versus Egypt in 1988, by 18 points as well as the team three point record putting in 29, blowing by the previous record of 13. The US won 156-73.
In their closest game in group play, Lithuanian put up a valiant effort against the lackadaisical US team. NBA fans may recognize Linas Kleiza, Darius Songaila, 2011 #5 overall NBA draft pick Jonas Valanciunas and former NBA player Sarunas Jasikevicius. Kleiza was 10-20 with 25 points and Jasikevicius had 8 points on 3-4 shooting and 6 assists. The US badly lost the shooting battle (58.5% to 44.3%) due to the strong defense of the big Lithuanian frontline, but made up for it by swiping a lot of passes (17 steals to Lithuania’s 3) and limiting turnovers (23 for Lithuanian versus only 9 for the US). The gap in athleticism shone through in this respect and the US pull of a close 99-94 win.
The Manu Ginobili-lead Argentina team was the final opponent in group play for the US. USA came in extremely focused from their near letdown against Lithuania and the stars shone. Kevin Durant scorched the Argentians with 28 points on 9-12 shooting including 8-10 from longrange. Chris Paul added 17 points on 6-7 shooting and 7 assists, slicing though the defense to get to the paint at will. The final score was 126-97.
As the top seed in knockout play, the US faced off against Patty Mills and Australia in the quarterfinals. Mills did not disappoint, putting in 26 points on 9-20 shooting, and adding 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. However, Lebron James would not be outdone, recording a triple double, the first in Olympic play, and 6 Americans were in double figures to break away from Australia, 119-86.
A knockout stage rematch with Argentina lead to the same result, an 109-83 win. They badly out rebounded their counterparts, 40 to 23, like in the first matchup. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony combined for 27-50 and 78 points and Argentina had no response for their firepower, getting out shot 53.1% to 44.3%.
Spain was clearly the best international competition for the US and held close until the 4th quarter. Pau Gasol picked up the load when his brother Marc Gasol picked up his 4th of 5 allowable fouls in the second quarter, scoring 15 points in the 3rd quarter to keep his team close. Serge Ibaka had 12 points and 9 rebounds, Marc Gasol put in 17 points on 8-10 shooting and Juan Carlos Navarro had 22 points on 7-17 shooting. However, it would not be enough for Kevin Durant and company as the Thunder superstar had 30 points on 8-18 shooting to go along with 9 rebound and Lebron James chipped in with an 8-13 night for 19 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
This was the US’s second gold medal in a row, 5 out of 6 since 1992, and 14 out of 18 overall. Their margin of victory during this 8 game run was over 32 points. Although, that doesn’t approach the Dream Team’s margin of almost 44 points, many are quick to point out the heightened level of competition since 1992. While that debate rages on, there is no doubt that this year’s team is nothing less than world champions.