USA STRIKE AGAIN FOR GOLD

Kevin Durant scored 30 points as the United States claimed the Olympic men’s basketball title with a 107-100 victory over Spain  at North Greenwich Arena.

It was the 14th time they have reigned supreme in the event, more than any other country. But just as in the final between these same two teams in Beijing four years ago, the Spanish more than held their own. It took one final surge in the fourth quarter to see the USA safely to their eighth consecutive win in London.

Spain were again bridesmaids but far from disgraced. Pau Gasol, who had a team-high 24 points,  led a relentless chase in a game that had 19 lead changes and saw the sport’s ultimate superpower have to confront genuine self-doubt. In the end, perhaps inevitably, the weight of talent shone through as their 12 superstars united to achieve their lone mission. “We all know it’s one common goal,” Durant declared. “We have a great gold medal coming back home.”

Juan Carlos Navarro, just as he did in last year’s EuroBasket final, came out with a secure shooting touch, collating 12 of his 21 points in the opening four minutes as the Spaniards dared to dream of an upset.

After the , Spain stood up once more, as Rudy Fernandez began a spell of nine unanswered points to close the gap to 35-34 and then moments later, Sergio Rodriguez hit a three that had the underdogs ahead.

The teams traded leads five further times before the interval and although the USA stole a six-point cushion, Fernandez hit five free throws in quick succession to bring Spain back to trail only 59-58 at half-time.

The Spanish did not settle for merely avoiding humiliation. They wanted more. Pau Gasol scored his team’s first 13 points of the third quarter as a 7-0 burst edged them ahead and as shots kept falling, the teams were tied at 80-80. However Durant, in a familiar sight throughout this tournament, converted a three with 1:41 left in the quarter and the USA would never trail again. And a 10-2 run early in the fourth left the Spanish in an ultimately irretrievable position as American’s goliaths held firm.

They are not a Dream Team. That title remains the exclusive preserve of their illustrious predecessors in Barcelona 20 years ago. But they are pretty darn good.

“You have got to pick your poison because we have so many players that can score,” said Durant. “I liked the course of the play because I was getting open shots, and then they shut me off a little bit so Kobe Bryant was able to get off and Lebrun James and Chris Paul. It’s all about the team, it is not about individual stats. We just wanted to win.”

For European champions Spain, there was the bitter-sweet sensation of coming up short, while producing their best performance when most was at stake. “It’s tough losing a final but at the same time we have to appreciate the fact that we got an Olympic silver medal,” said Pau Gasol, who pledged to continue until the 2016 world championships in Spain.”Today we tried a new defence. We didn’t have a lot of practice on it and it didn’t work at times. We let them shoot a lot of wide open shots and the United States are an amazing team. We were close at times but we couldn’t play the perfect game we needed to beat them.”

Elsewhere, Alexei Shved was Russia’s hero as they won the bronze medal, coming up with a three-pointer and a vital steal in the last minute as his team beat Argentina 81-77.

The point guard, who scored a game-high 25 points, gave Russia the lead with 37 seconds left and then stripped the ball from Carlos Defino and passed to Vitaliy Fridzon for the final basket of the game as the Russians claimed their first medal in the competition since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

“It was a difficult shot because if I miss, we are dead,” said Shved, who will join the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves next season. “It is one of the best moments of my life.”


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