Team USA celebrate their victory. (Getty Images)
Team USA Beats Spain for Men's Basketball Gold
(BEIJING, August 24) -- The United States topped off its undefeated performance in the 2008 Olympic Men's Basketball tournament with a gold medal win over Spain, 118-107, on Sunday, August 24.
The United States won this game by its smallest margin of the tournament, but it wasn't so much the score that made this the closest match of the Beijing Games for the Athens bronze winners. Spain effectively protected the paint and delivered on offense inside and outside to keep the US squad on its toes throughout the gold medal match.
Spain was able to lead by as much as five points halfway through the first period, and reached 82 points by the end of the third quarter, which is as much as they netted against the US team in the preliminary match they lost 119-82. After Team USA returned to the lead with 2:58 left in the first period it never lost the advantage -- but the all-star NBA squad was also never able to relax.
Foul trouble early on had Dwight Howard, Lebron James and Kobe Bryant benched only four minutes into the game, and forced the team to play as conservatively as possible on defense. It was high-pressure defense that led the US team to a swift victory over Spain in the preliminary. Spain, meanwhile, demonstrated why it was the best defensive team in the tournament, especially when at the end of the first half both teams were scoring equally in the paint.
After two quarters, Dwayne Wade already had 21 points, with three baskets made behind the arc, as did Spain's Rudy Fernandez who netted a total of 13 points in only 8:57 minutes of play. Spain also ran into foul trouble in the first half, where several players including Fernandez had three personal fouls. Coach Mike Krzyzewski did a better job of protecting his players so that no US men went to the half with more than two strikes against them.
In the third quarter, Spain came within four points at 71-67, but hot-shooting Fernandez's personal foul tally also crept up to four. When the US side failed to widen the four point gap, Krzyzewski went to a timeout and the team returned with a fast break from Carmelo Anthony off a Chris Bosh rebound and assist. Fast breaks were another feature of the United States' preliminary victory over Spain, and Spain until now was able to keep them to a minimum. By the time the game ended, however Team USA took 16 fast break points compared to two from Spain.
The fourth quarter began 91-82, but a dunk by Pau Gasol followed by another big three-pointer from Fernandez made Team USA feel the heat at 91-89, and they went to a timeout with 8:13 minutes left on the clock. Two buckets from Bryant and Howard, with a shot behind the arc from Deron Williams in between, and the United States got back its cushion at 98-89. Fernandez and Bryant took turns sinking undefended three-pointers, but at 3:10 minutes Spain suffered a setback when Fernandez reached his fifth foul and exited the game at a score of 107-99.
Luckily, Carlos Jiminez was there to pick up the slack with a three-pointer to bring the world champions again within four points, 108-104. Another three from Wade and Spain called a timeout with two minutes left. With :47 seconds left on the clock, the Spanish players reached their fifth team foul, which sent the US side to the basket every time Spain fouled to stop the clock. The United States was able to rack up some extra points in the last minute, while Spain only gained three to end the match 118-107.
In the end, both teams were roughly even in terms of assists, fouls and turnovers, with Spain grabbing five more rebounds and the US team shooting a higher percentage from the field. The United States had 27 points from free throws and shot 73 percent from the line, while Spain managed to outscore the high-flying dunkers by six points in the paint. The teams held each other to a highest scoring run of 9-0.
Wade led all scorers with four three-pointers on his way to 27 points, and Bryant contributed 20 points (three three-pointers) along with six assists and three rebounds. Fernandez led his team in scoring with 22 points in only 17:34 minutes of play, shooting five three-pointers, the most for a single player in the game. Pau Gasol followed with 21 points and six rebounds. US center Bosh and Spain's Felipe Reyes tied for a game high seven boards.
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