For the third straight Olympics, the United States and Spain went head-to-head in men’s basketball. The Americans came out on top 82-76, securing a spot in the 2016 Rio Games gold-medal contest on Sunday.
The U.S. has never lost to Spain in Olympic competition, moving to 12-0 all-time following Friday’s win.
The game was ugly in the first half, with officials calling five technical fouls between the two teams, including four on Spain. The U.S. was unable to take advantage of the opportunities, shooting just 5-of-9 from the free-throw line, and Kevin Durant was in trouble with three fouls in the first 20 minutes.
Despite some sluggish shooting early, the Americans took a 45-39 lead into the half thanks to Klay Thompson’s continued hot streak. After a slow start to these Olympics, the Golden State Warriors star has found his stroke.
Thompson had 17 points heading into the locker room, making him the only U.S. player to reach double digits at that point. Per the NBA on ESPN, he scored or assisted on 14 of the team’s 19 points during the second quarter.
Even though Thompson didn’t keep up that pace, he finished the game with a team-high 22 points and made four of the USA’s nine three-pointers.
Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post noted that Team USA seemed to be following a pattern throughout the Games.
Spain continued to stick around, though it was never able to close the gap enough to make Team USA nervous.
The Spanish squad climbed to within five points at 53-48 midway through the third quarter, but the U.S. went on an 8-2 run that DeAndre Jordan capped off with a putback slam that helped build some cushion.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports pinpointed one of the reasons why Team USA has not looked sharp at times.
There have been moments in which you can see Team USA likes to play isolation, with everyone standing around and watching things unfold. The Americans are so talented that it hasn’t cost them, but it’s led to some close calls.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton did highlight one lineup that was working well for USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Jordan’s plus-11 was a team high. He was often in the middle of plays that stifled any momentum Spain was hoping to build, whether it was a big dunk to end the third quarter or a block to start the fourth.
Spain fell behind 70-57 less than two minutes into the final quarter, despite Pau Gasol’s game-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds. Spain shot 39 percent overall and made 28 field goals as a team, with Gasol sinking nine of them.
There was some concern on the Spanish side that Gasol wouldn’t be able to play because of a calf injury, but you’d never know anything was wrong based on his performance.
Unfortunately for Gasol, he received no support from his teammates. The United States does deserve a share of credit for that, because even when the offense was sluggish, the defense did not often waver.
Jordan, in particular, was a huge asset in the paint. His four blocks forced Spain to rethink the path to the basket, and he drew a huge offensive foul with just over two minutes remaining that led to a layup from Durant to extend the USA lead to 80-69.
ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss was impressed by Jordan’s effort throughout the game.
It seemed like Jordan was involved in every key play during the second half, whether it was on offense or defense. He was the spark that Krzyzewski needed to keep his team’s winning streak alive and give USA an opportunity for a third straight Olympic gold.
This has not been the flashiest United States team in Olympics history, but it keeps doing all the little things necessary to win.
The Americans are one more win away from a 15th gold medal. Dominance is fun, but all that matters Sunday is the final score.
“It was just a real different game today,” Krzyzewski said after the win, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
That’s an appropriate way to sum things up for the United States, which managed to shoot just 42 percent from the field and the 82 points marked its lowest output in Olympics competition since losing to Argentina in 2004.
Jordan, who really was the hero on Friday, told the AP he is excited about having one more game to win gold: “It’s an amazing feeling now. We really want to accomplish this.”
Spain’s coach, Sergio Scariolo, credited the U.S. defense for shutting down his team’s offensive output, per the AP: “Their athleticism, their size, they made our offense get difficult during most of the possessions.”
Gasol was very subdued in his take on the game, wanting to give proper credit to the U.S. team, but also feeling like Spain missed an opportunity:
They are not playing as well as other times they’ve played, but they are still a very talented team individually. I just (feel) like if we had been a little sharper with our shots, if we would have moved the ball a little better, if we would have boxed out more, and make it a two- or three-possession game, then you’re talking about a whole different story.
This was a game of missed opportunities for Spain, though the U.S. defense was the reason for that. Not all games are going to follow the same blueprint, so credit goes to the United States for finding a formula that worked on this day.
Courtesy: CBS Sports