US Dream Team outlast stubborn Spaniards to take basketball gold
Sunday, 12 August 2012
August 12 - The latest manifestation of the "Dream Team" won the USA's 14th Olympic men's basketball tournament at the North Greenwich Arena today against stubborn Spanish opponents who kept the outcome in doubt until deep into the match's final quarter.
At 83-82 to Kobe Bryant and his teammates at the end of the third period, a shock of similar dimension to Mexico's win over Brazil in the men's football yesterday, was still on the cards.
But Bryant, playing in long navy blue socks, and the unflappable Lebron James turned the screw in the last 10 minutes, with James' slam dunk to hand the US a 99-91 advantage with less than three minutes left, probably the moment when the red-vested Spaniards knew that the game was up.
It takes something special for Henry Kissinger and David Beckham to show up at the same event.
And with Arnold Schwarzenegger, London mayor Boris Johnson, Queen Sofia of Spain and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge also among the 13,514 spectators, it was clear that, for all Usain Bolt's sprinklings of stardust over at the Olympic Stadium, this was still the glitz event of the Games.
There was though a scattering of empty seats even here - although someone at least had the presence of mind to usher 20 or so of the soldiers who have made London 2012 such a good Olympics for the British Army to some of the untenanted court-side places for the final stages of the match.
It was hard to remember, as Spain shot into a 12-7 lead in this repeat of the Beijing 2008 final, largely thanks to the splendidly accurate sharp shooting of Juan-Carlos Navarro, their bearded captain, that they had struggled to beat Great Britain by a single point in the tournament's group phase.
They continued to ride their luck, with Sergio Rodríguez and the towering Gasol brothers performing wonders to keep their team in touch in what was at times a crunchingly physical encounter.
Eventually, though, their aim started to waver just a bit too frequently, with the US making use of the cheaply-won possession to pounce on the counter.
Spain's consolation, along with a second consecutive silver medal at what has been a disappointing Games for Spanish athletes, is that they are getting closer.
Today's victory margin for the US was seven points (107-100), down from eleven (118-107) four years ago.
At that rate of progress, the gold medal match at Rio 2016 could be a real cliffhanger.
Earlier, Russia had made sure of the bronze medal, edging Argentina, the 2004 Olympic champions, 81-77.