Historically, Spain has been the biggest threat to Team USA‘s global basketball supremacy. Yet they’ve never quite been able to topple the American giants. The closest they came was an 11-point loss in the gold medal game in Beijing in 2008, where they closed the gap to just four points with under two minutes remaining but ultimately came up short.
That held true once again on Friday in Rio when the U.S. withstood a strong effort from Spain to get the 82-76 win and advance to the gold medal game on Sunday.
Klay Thompson was on fire all night, finishing with 22 points on 50 percent from the field and from behind the arc. DeAndre Jordan was huge as well, just missing a double-double as he put up nine points, 16 rebounds (tying an Olympic record), and four big blocks.
Pau Gasol was fantastic for Spain in the losing effort with 23 points and eight rebounds, while Sergio Rodriguez chipped in 11 points and five assists.
Despite leading the whole way, it was anything but an easy victory for the United States. They were careless with the ball early, making lazy passes that resulted in three first-quarter steals and easy transition buckets for Spain.
But toward the end of the first, the U.S. subbed in the same unit that worked so well for them against Argentina on Wednesday, with Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry, and Jimmy Butler coming off the bench as their best defensive unit.
The U.S. also tempered their three-point shooting significantly to begin the game, attempting just five shots from behind the arc in the opening quarter and converting three of those. This after starting 1-of-8 from downtown against Argentina on Wednesday. They led 26-17 after one.
Thompson, who struggled against Argentina, rediscovered his stroke against Spain early on, sinking three out of his first five shots from long-range and leading the U.S. in scoring in the first half with 17 points. Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, continued a string of brutal offensive performances, going just 2-11 from the floor overall, including 1-of-4 from downtown, with just seven points.
The U.S. struggled in the second quarter, unable to find a rhythm offensively while getting harassed into difficult looks late in the shot clock as Spain was able to cut the lead to three at several points and left Team USA clinging to a 45-39 lead at the half.
The referees weren’t taking any lip from either team early on, calling two technical fouls against each side, one of which was attributed to Durant, who picked up his third personal foul overall with three minutes left in the second quarter and was forced to sit out the rest of the half. Under FIBA rules, a player fouls out of the game after five fouls instead of six as in the NBA.
Team USA played solid defense but wasn’t entirely able to capitalize on that, getting just three points off turnovers in the first half, but holding a dominating 17-6 advantage on second-chance points.
Every time the Spaniards would close the gap, the U.S. would turn to their one-on-one play to get a bucket to keep the separation. The U.S. got their biggest lead of the game, 13, to start the fourth quarter while Gasol was on the bench and never looked back from there, the final six-point margin not exactly indicative of the U.S.’s decisive win.
The Americans will now face the winner of the other semifinal match-up between Australia and Serbia later on Friday night.