The men’s basketball tournament at the Olympics has been the running story throughout the entire, 16-day extravaganza. Whether because of the proposed age limit that in fact won’t be place by Rio in 2016 or the hoops itself, basketball has been the storyline you can count on. And within that arc was one more, even steadier story: The United States was cleaning up this tournament. The lonely exception was a five-point pool play win over Lithuania. It turns out that exception helped the U.S. keep the rule intact. U.S. players talked about how much it helped to have some sort of a late-game challenge after the Americans won the gold medal on Sunday, beating Spain, 107-100. The game was frustrating to watch for both Spanish and American fans, what with Marc Gasol getting four fouls in the first half, to LeBron sitting down with his fourth early in the final quarter. The refereeing was, how do we say this, exactly what you think of when you think of international refs. It was hard to find a baseline of agreement for those calls and please don’t get us started about Rudy Fernandez‘s flop against Andre Iguodala. Then the U.S. went on and hit seven threes in the first quarter but still only led by eight after one. When Spain burst into a 12-2 run in the second they were up by two and officially making this a buckle-up type of final. … All hail Kevin Durant, though. His 30-point game was the first ever of that many in an Olympic final. Spain had to go to a box and one on him in the fourth, but then Chris Paul came back with two drives to the cup that blew that plan apart. Pau Gasol (24 points) did to the U.S. in the second half what everyone who saw the U.S.’ size problems saw coming. He had LeBron (19 points and a huge dunk and a triple in the final three minutes) guarding him in the last quarters until LBJ got in foul trouble. Pau was going after him and all comers, scoring the first 13 points of Spain’s second half. … Check out this year by LBJ: He’s the only player since MJ to win the regular-season and Finals MVPs, an NBA title and an Olympic crown in the same year. Plus, he debuted his LeBron X USA. Nice Nike looks there. …
On one of CP3’s hoops in the final minute, coach Mike Krzyzewski jumped up and down, up and down again, with exuberance the likes of which we haven’t seen much of before. And then you realize it was what he says is his final game as head coach of Team USA since he took over in 2005, leaving after a 53-1 mark (the only loss to Greece in ’06). The only news this team was going to make is if it lost, and Coach K did not want that black mark on his record. Everyone looked thrilled but mostly, relieved, in their podium-ready, black Nike gear. We wrote earlier about how the Olympics never made a star into something greater than he already was, at least in the U.S. gold runs. It’s an incredible accomplishment, but it doesn’t factor into evaluations of players that Player X did his job on a team expected to win. But what about coaching? We’d argue it burnishes Coach K’s resume in a way that’s hard to do even if the win looks easy. Yeah, he had seven of the top 10 scorers in the NBA, but he only got to coach them since July 5. It helps, of course, he had them in the World Championships and five of them from the ’08 Olympics, too, but that’s due to him, as well. He and Jerry Colangelo didn’t want a rent-a-player arrangement anymore. Does seeing Coach K work his magic with pro players take him even higher on the list of all-time coaches, or is he already so high up there it doesn’t matter? … Also headed out the door is Kobe Bryant, who said Sunday was his last Olympic game. He’s now got two golds to go with five Larry O’Brien’s. … Now after five weeks of being all buddy-buddy and we-are-family this USA squad will be going for each other’s jugular here in oh, eight weeks or so. … A last thing to note was Chris Paul finally got to steal the game ball after missing out in Beijing. His best steal of the year. … We’re out like Coach K.
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