This was not the gold medal game, nothing was really at stake in Tuesday night’s exhibition in Barcelona. Spain did not put everything they had into this one — for starters, Marc Gasol did not even play.
Nonetheless, the message the USA sent in the final three quarters of this rout — that their speed and athleticism can be overwhelming, especially when the outside shots are falling — was received. Loud and clear.
Team USA beat Spain 100-78 in a game that was both a rematch of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game from Beijing and a likely preview of the gold medal game from London.
And if there is a rematch in London, you can expect a better effort from Spain. The question is, would it really be enough?
Spain certainly started out the game getting their way. They slowed the game down and contested the USA’s jumpers in the half court, then on offense pounded the ball inside. Pau Gasol got two quick fouls on Tyson Chandler. Meanwhile, Jose Calderon carved into the USA’s defense and when the help came nobody on the USA helped-the-helper. The result was Serge Ibaka putting on a dunking exhibition and getting 16 first half points (he scored none in the second half).
Team USA is undersized and has predicated their defense on speed and pressure. Which is fine, but that requires some practice and communication, and certainly the communication was lacking early.
But at the end of the first quarter, things started to change for a couple reasons. One, the USA got some stops and that let them increase the tempo.
The other was Carmelo Anthony.
He hit seemingly everything he put up once he came in off the bench, ending with 23 first half points. He was raining threes (five in the first half), and he was doing it getting open working off the ball in a way Mike D’Antoni wanted him to but Carmelo wouldn’t really do for him in New York. ‘Melo finished with 27 points on 15 shots to lead Team USA.
They pushed out to a 48-40 halftime lead.
The second half saw some smart adjustments by Mike Krzyzewski. For one, they ran some early LeBron James/Kevin Durant pick and roll. Which is about the most unstoppable thing on the planet. Team USA also was making the extra pass — Kobe Bryant made the extra pass on the perimeter to Durant for a three, then a couple possessions later tried to post up then passed out of the double to Durant for another good look (Durant was fouled).
LeBron helped take over in second half, finished with 25 points on 15 shots. The USA’s defensive rotations were a lot sharper in the second half. And while Spain made a run at one point the game was never in serious doubt from near the end of the second quarter on.
Pau Gasol had 19 points to lead Spain. Hopefully Lakers coach Mike Brown was watching and noticed that Gasol is very effective in the low post. You don’t have to just stick him at the elbow or use him as a glorified stretch four.
Spain, as they showed at the start of the game, can play better. They have playmakers that can cause the USA’s defense problems and without Marc Gasol they were lacking some of their skill and size.
But they cannot matchup with the speed, the athleticism the USA puts out there. If the USA is not draining threes maybe Spain can close the gap. And anything can happen in a one-game playoff. But it was hard to watch this game and think that the USA, when focused, is going to be nearly impossible to beat in London.
The USA opens its gold medal defense on Sunday against France.