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U.S. regain gold
by Marc Narducci / August 24, 2008

Team USA - Icon Sports Media The United States men’s basketball team had steamrolled through the first seven games in the Olympics with such relative ease that the only question was how the team would react in the unlikely occasion that a competitive game took place.

That question was answered as the U.S. defeated Spain, 118-107 to win the Olympic gold medal.

Spain trailed by nine points entering the fourth quarter, but went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just two points.

For the United States, that qualified as major adversity. And it’s not surprising that Kobe Bryant led the charge from that point when the U.S. went on its own 7-0 run.

Bryant, who scored 20 points for the game, hit a tough runner and Deron Williams sank a huge three pointer, Bryant fed Howard for a dunk, to complete the run and give the U.S. some breathing room, but to Spain’s credit, it kept coming back.

Later in the quarter, Bryant hit a four-point play, extending the lead to 108-99 with just over three minutes remaining. It was typical Bryant, making one clutch play after another.

In the entire Olympics, the U.S. never trailed by more than five points and that came in the first quarter of the gold medal game.

Before determining the 2008 team’s place in Olympic history, a salute has to go to Spain, which had lost by 37 points in its earlier game against the U.S.

In addition, Spain played without Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, who was nursing a groin injury.

More of the burden fell to 17-year-old sensation Ricky Rubio, whose poise and showmanship will play well when he eventually plays in the NBA. He had six points, six rebounds and three assists. Rubio must work on defending off the dribble, but what young player doesn’t?

Rubio also showed toughness, after suffering a wrist injury in the first quarter. Another player who stepped things up was Juan Carlos Navarro, who played last season for the Memphis Grizzlies. Going into the final, he had attempted just four free throws. In the first quarter alone, Navarro went to the foul line five times.

During the earlier loss to the U.S. Navarro went 2 for 10 from the field and 0 for 5 from three point range. In the final, he was a different player, scoring 18 points.

And Rudy Fernandez, who will play for the Portland Trail Blazers, was spectacular, scoring 22 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Pau Gasol added 21 points and six rebounds for a Spanish team that didn’t lack heart, just not as much depth as the U.S.

Spain committed just 14 turnovers, after turning the ball over 28 times in the first game against the U.S. So a lot of credit goes to Span for making this a highly competitive game. Then again, the U.S. also deserves all the acclaim it will receive, being the heavy favorite and living up to these high expectations.

Nobody in the world could match the depth of the U.S. team and that was clearly evident in the final.

LeBron James and Bryant both picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and the U.S. didn’t even blink.

Dwyane Wade and Williams came off the bench to replace Bryant and James and by the end of the first quarter Wade had 13 points. He would score 27 for the game. In the Olympics Wade averaged 16 points and shot 47 for 70 from the field (67.1 percent).

The U.S. is the only team in the world that Wade would come off the bench.

The other reserves also distinguished themselves throughout the tournament and specifically in the final. Chris Bosh had eight points and seven rebounds. Chris Paul scored 13 points. For the Olympics, he shot 22 for 24 from the foul line. Tayshaun Prince added six points, all in the first half. Williams added seven key points.

One gets the impression that the second unit of the U.S. could have challenged for a medal in these Olympics.

Now the comparisons with the 1992 Dream Team will begin. While this current U.S. team will probably fall a little short, there isn’t a person who wouldn’t want to see those teams compete.

The Dream Team of 1992 won by an average of 44 points. The 2008 U.S. team won by an average of almost 28 points per game.

The Dream Team had two of the greatest players ever, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, both past their prime. Johnson had retired the year before and Bird by that time of his career was a shell of his former self due to a back injury.

That said, the Dream Team featured Charles Barkley, who was its leading scorer, and Michael Jordan was well on his way to being Michael Jordan, the best player in the world. Other Dream Teamers included Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton and college standout Christian Laettner.

This U.S. team would give the Dream Teamers a game, for sure. LeBron James, who averaged 15.5 points after scoring 14 in the gold medal game, showed his all-around brilliance during these entire Olympics.

Bryant, while at times inconsistent, was a defensive stopper and saved his best for the fourth quarter, when the U.S. needed him the most.

Dwight Howard wasn’t superman, but he didn’t need to be, especially with Bosh playing as well as he did all tournament.

Believe it or not, the Dream Team may have had more depth than this team, something that is hard to comprehend. And one argument the Dream Team will use is that it was never seriously challenged. The U.S. could have made that claim prior to the final.

Still we’re splitting hairs.

Each had the ability to take their individual talents and work together as a team, the clear recipe for Olympic dominance.

Marc Narducci s a frequent contributor to HoopsHype.com

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