Monday, August 13, 2012

2012 Olympics:
USA Holds Off Spain's Valiant Effort to Win Gold

USA 107, Spain 100

Team USA won its second Olympic gold medal in a row, but it didn't come easy. Spain made this game a lot more interesting than expected.

This game had a strikingly similar feel to the 2008 final. The offenses ruled the day just like in 2008, with good back-and-forth action from opening tip to final buzzer.

Maybe Spain was laying low through the previous seven games after all. After playing lackluster ball for most of the Olympics, they played their best game on Sunday. It just came down to Team USA having more firepower to overcome Spain's strong performance.

Spain's offense had been underachieving over the first seven games, shooting 44.7% overall and 32.8% on 3PA. But they managed to put up 100 points on 49.3% shooting (36.8% on 3PA) on Sunday.

What's odd is that Spain went into the 2008 Gold Medal game with nearly the same numbers: 44.7% FG pct. and 30% on 3PA through seven games, before exploding for 107 on 51.4% FG and 8-17 3PA (47%). Juan Navarro even had a similar repeat of 2008 by going off in the final game after struggling for most of the tourney.

Give Spain credit, they never let Team USA go on any extended runs. Every time you got a sense Team USA would go on a backbreaking run, Spain was able to reel them in.

Can't fault Spain’s defensive game plan. They went with a heavy diet of zone, and even a stretch of box-n-one, which was effective. They didn't let Team USA hurt them in transition and did a good job giving fouls. Spain actually outscored USA 13-8 on transition possessions.

There is only so much you can do when Team USA is knocking down its outside shots. Team USA cranked up 37 3PA and hit them at a clip of 40.5%.

Team USA got some clutch plays from some of the best crunch-time performers in the world. Chris Paul, LeBron and Kobe each stepped up at key points in the 2nd half to keep Spain at bay.

Chris Paul has been sneakily good all tourney doing subtle things to fill in the gaps. He was clutch in the 4th, scoring eight of his 11 pts. Had a key sequence early in the 4th where he made back-to-back buckets in ball-screen action.

The first make was a step-back 3-pter. at the top-o-key and the other was baseline drive where he fooled the defense by going away from the screen. These plays gave Team USA a six-point cushion that they rode the rest of the game.

Later in the 4th, Chris also made a darting drive past Pau (on a iso switch) to beat the shot clock and put the game out of reach with just under a minute.

LeBron also had a key sequence of his own in the 4th. With just under 3:00 on the clock, Bron had the ball isolated on the right wing. Team USA bunched up bodies, Spain got confused, and Bron sliced in for a dunk.

Then on Team USA's ensuing offensive possession, Bron made his best play of the game, worthy of an "ONIONS!" call from Raftery:
    Initially received the pass at the FT line, then, realizing he had Marc Gasol on him, he slowly backed his dribble out behind the arc. With the shot clock winding down he set up Marc, then unleashed a high-arching semi-fadeaway over the outstretched arms of Marc. The shot splashed down to give 102-93 lead with 2:00 left.
LeBron (19 pts, 7 rebs, 4 assts, 2 stls) actually did damage throughout the game, including multiple times in isolation.

Kevin Durant (30 pts, 9 rebs) punished Spain just like he did vs. every other team--by being unguardable at the 3pt. line. Durant knocked down five-of-13 behind the arc and did a nice job drawing fouls on drives (drew a foul a nifty baseline floater).

Kobe (17 pts) made plays out of the pick-n-roll and isolation all game. Had two baseline drives that led to points in the 2nd half. But maybe his best contribution came when he converted a put-back banker to give the US a 10-point lead with about 4:30 left.

Kevin Love (9 pts, 9 rebs) proved vital once again by securing extra possessions for Team USA. He was able to make Spain pay for playing a zone by getting three offensive boards and drawing fouls around the rim (5-of-6 FTs).

Pau Gasol (24 pts, 8 rebs, 7 assts) was simply awesome. Team USA simply couldn't stop him, and he put Spain on his back in the 3rd quarter (12 pts in the 3rd). Put on clinic in the post with hooks, spins, drives, drawn fouls and passes. Once again, Pau was a presence defensively as he changed some USA shots in close.

We knew Spain would try to expose Team USA’s lack of size and shaky interior defense. That they did. For the game, Spain generated 27 points off of 17 post possessions, which works out to a sterling 1.59 points-per-possession. In the 3rd quarter, Pau generated 15 points on his post-ups.

Spain desperately needed Juan Navarro to find his La Bomba groove vs. Team USA. He obliged. Navarro (21 pts) got off to a torrid start scoring 11 pts in the 1st quarter, which definitely raised Spain's confidence level. He did most of damage with long jumpers (four 3pters.) and mixed in some buckets in transition. But he never got his floater game going.

La Bomba cooled off in the 2nd half after Team USA keyed in on him (particularly Kobe) and he started forcing shots.

Foul trouble for Marc Gasol forced Spain to change its game plan around a bit. Marc was still highly productive with his 17 minutes, scoring 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Actually Marc's foul difficulties didn't really hurt Spain since it meant more time for Serge Ibaka.

Well, we were wondering if we would see more Serge Ibaka vs. USA, and we did. Serge (12 pts, 9 rebs) gave them great minutes off the bench, especially in the 3rd. He played off of Pau well in the 2nd half, got some buckets and drew fouls moving to the open spots. Had to guard LeBron for stretches which led to some issues. But he also did a solid job guarding Bron on some possessions as well.

Sergio Rodriquez (7 pts, 6 assts, 2 stls) gave Spain a tremendous spark off the bench. Team USA had some difficulty containing him and his playmaking was setting up easy baskets, particularly in the late 1st/early 2nd quarter.

Rudy Fernandez (14 pts) played his usual irritating, high-energy brand of ball which led to multiple drawn fouls off the ball (earned eight trips to FT line). Made a couple nice plays in transition, including a big tip-in.

Not surprisingly the refs made their presence felt in this game. A total of 54 fouls called, 27 fouls for each team. Spain's total was inflated with all the fouls to stop transition.

With this win, Team USA automatically qualifies for the 2014 World Cup. Spain is also automatically qualified as they will host.

We could likely see these two teams playing for gold two years from now. No doubt Team USA will continue to be the favorite and Spain should stay strong for the near future.

26 Comments:

At 7:43 PM, Blogger john marzan said...

"Give Spain credit, they never let Team USA go on any extended runs. Every time you got a sense Team USA would go on a backbreaking run, Spain was able to reel them in."

by using hard fouls before they get a chance to run...

 
At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We could likely see these two teams playing for gold two years from now. No doubt Team USA will continue to be the favorite and Spain should stay strong for the near future. "

Compared to previous years, Spain is not as dominant as it used to be. They almost lost to France and Russia in the knock-out round. In 2 years time Gasol and Navarro, their two most important players, will be be 34 years old. While a big man like Gasol might be able to keep his level of excellence, undersized and slow Navarro will likely experience a sharper drop-off.

Really the only team that is consistently good are the USA, because of their overwhelming talent and depth. Other nations need the right constellation of star players peaking at the same time to become medal contenders. We've just witnessed the last hurrah of Argentina's golden generation. Germany, which for so long was carried by Nowitzki, lost its place in this contenders group several years ago.

France and Russia should still be medal contender's at next year's Eurobasket and at the Wold Championship in 2 years. But both Parker, a speed-based point guard who is 30 and Kirilenko, a 31-year-old forward relying on his athleticism, will likely be too old to have the same impact in 4 years time in Rio.

For the rest of the world, outside of the USA, the mantra is basically to enjoy it while it's last and then endure year's of mediocrity until the next generation of superstars comes along.

 
At 2:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"by using hard fouls before they get a chance to run..."

Bitter much, John?

 
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