We almost certainly will not have a rematch of the 2008 Gold Medal game from Beijing.
But how about a rematch of the controversial 1972 Olympic Gold Medal game won by Russia? That we could get.
That’s because Russia defeated Spain 77-74 Saturday, giving Russia the top spot in Group B. It’s an upset, although if you have watched Russia play in these games you know it’s not as big of one as you would have thought a week ago. Russia has been good.
Russia is now 4-0, Spain 3-1 in group play. Spain will finish second in Group B (unless they fall to Brazil in the last game of the group, in which case Spain would be third… but that’s unlikely and would have people thinking badminton).
What that means is that Spain — considered the second best team at the Olympics — will be on the USA’s side of the eight-team medal round bracket (a lose and you are out tournament). If things stay to form the USA would play Spain in the semifinals and the best the loser of that game could do is the bronze.
The winner of a that potential USA/Spain match would likely get the Russians in a gold medal game, a Russian team that we now should call the second best in this tournament.
Still, Russia’s win over Spain was surprising.
Spain raced out to 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter but Russia owned the middle of the game, outscoring Spain 45-25 combined in the second and third quarters. Russia did it without their leading scorer having a huge game — Andrei Kirilenko was just 2-of-8 shooting on the night. Also, soon-to-be Timberwolves point guard Aleksey Shved had by far his worst game of the Olympics, not scoring at all and playing only seven minutes.
Spain and Russia were close through the fourth quarter but Spain maintained a small lead until a Victor Khryapa’s three-pointer with 1:01 left tied the game up at 73-73. After getting a stop, the Russians took the lead when Spain’s defense broke down and Timofey Mozgov got free for a dunk.
Spain had a chance to tie with 5.2 seconds left when Pau Gasol was fouled. But Gasol missed the first of two free throws. He hit the second, then Spain fouled Russian Vitaliy Fridzon (the hero of the Brazil win who scored 24 points to lead Russia in this game). Fridzon hit both, it was 77-74, and Spain could not even get off a game-tying three attempt.
Gasol had 20 to lead Spain. His brother Marc Gasol had 10 points and 9 rebounds. As a team, Spain shot just 3-of-15 from three. But it doesn’t matter now.
Spain wanted another shot at the USA and another shot at gold, but their path to the final game now is much, much harder. Their dream of a gold medal rematch with the USA is all but dead, as may be their dreams of gold period.
And in the United States we can start thinking 1972.
Hamidou Diallo blows open, big windmill dunk (video)
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Assertive LeBron James shows how far Lakers have come. Back on Oct. 18, in the first game of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers comfortably handled a Laker team still stumbling around with new faces and a lack of identity. That night, Portland’s continuity and shooting were a stark contrast to a Lakers team with neither.
Nearly a month later, LeBron and the Lakers look dramatically better.
Wednesday night LeBron reminded everyone that when he decides to take over there is nobody like him Anywhere. Especially when he is hitting threes from a Curryesque range, which he did from the game’s opening minutes. LeBron was 5-of-6 from three on the night.
One key to the Lakers’ turnaround is they are playing much better defense, and they did for stretches against Portland. This isn’t just about Tyson Chandler — although he helps — but over the past seven games, the Lakers have allowed an average of 104 points per 100 possessions, sixth best in the NBA. The Lakers are pressuring better and higher to stop penetration off the pick-and-roll, jumping in gaps and generating steals (9.6 per game in their last seven games), and getting blocks from their bigs at the rim. All of that is a dramatic change from the beginning of the season when the Lakers played matador defense and were letting teams walk to the rim at will.
The Laker offense has come a long way, too, and it isn’t all LeBron. The Lakers generated good chances by having Lonzo Ball as a screener, with Brandon Ingram getting isolated on a smaller defender (C.J. McCollum much of the time), and with JaVale McGee as a rim runner. The Lakers are still generating chances playing at pace, too, something that has become a key part of their identity.
There was one bit of bad news for Los Angeles out of this game: Rajon Rondobroke his hand and will be out weeks. The Lakers will miss him on the second unit.
2) Jimmy Butler plays his first game with Philadelphia and… it’s going to be a process. “The process” is over in Philly. The arrival of Jimmy Butler as a Sixers makes them a “win now” team.
Now just starts another process: Fitting Butler into the Sixers offense and schemes.
This process could take some time, too.
Orlando proved that point, went on a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a 16-point Philadelphia lead and ultimately spoiled Butler’s debut, 111-106.
Butler had moments but was not the aggressive player we know, he let the game come to him more, something to be expected with a player on a new team who has been through one practice. He did show off his midrange game and defense at points, but expect him to be more aggressive as he gets more comfortable.
Behold, Jimmy Butler's first bucket as a Philadelphia 76er.
The game showed that there will be a lot of adjustments needed from Philadelphia to make this work.
That starts with Simmons, who had to work off the ball more when Butler created looks. The problem is Simmons is not a shooter so the Magic didn’t have to respect him until he made a cut or got close to the rim, allowing them to pack the paint more and provide help. Simmons can make those cuts and finish, but coach Brett Brown would prefer Joel Embiid coming out of the dunker’s spot and so the spacing becomes an issue. Embiid also didn’t look quite in sync for stretches of the game, although he did rack up his first career triple-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Those assists came when the Sixers were moving the ball the way Brown wants — fast side-to-side ball reversal that gets guys like J.J. Redick clean looks (he had a team-high 22). The Sixers did more of that in the third quarter. However, the ball movement was inconsistent as the Sixers tried to fit Butler into the offense. Late in the game when it was close, Butler was not taking over as much as serving as a decoy on the weak side for the Simmons/Embiid two-man game we have seen before.
It’s just going to take time. It’s a process. A fully healthy Wilson Chandler will help, he had 14 points on 10 shots and the offense flowed much better with him out there rather than Mike Muscala.
The Sixers have other questions to answer: Should they stagger Simmons’ and Butler’s minutes so each has longer stretches as the primary ball handler? If so, where does that leave Markelle Fultz, who is coming off the bench now and had eight points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Jimmy Butler with the Sixers is not going to be a plug-and-play instant contender. The loss in Orlando made that clear. What matters now is how much better the Sixers look in a week. Then in a month.
3) Dwane Casey went back to Toronto and drew up a beautiful game-winner. Dwane Casey, the best coach in Raptors’ franchise history, got a warm welcome from the Toronto fans Wednesday. As he should. The man presided over the best years of basketball in Raptors history and won Coach of the Year last year.
Then, with the game on the line, he reminded those fans why he is so good — he drew up a beautiful game-winning play that got Reggie Bullock a clean look. The play had Blake Griffin coming off a double screen, one set by Bullock, and when his man Pascal Siakam slid over to help on the Pistons’ biggest threat, Bullock slid into a scoring position.
Well done for Casey and a quality win for the Pistons. One they needed.
It was a big night for the Lakers. LeBron James was the most aggressive he has been as a Laker and took over the game, dropping 44 points on the Trail Blazers. It was also the Lakers’ sixth win in seven games, moving them up in the crowded West.
But it was not all good news: Rajon Rondo has broken his hand.
Rajon Rondo broke his hand. “He’ll be out a few weeks,” said Walton.
While the Lakers will not put a timeline on the injury, traditionally it takes a month or more to heal.
The Lakers have been 3.4 points per 100 possessions better this season with Rondo on the court, with that improvement coming on the defensive end. Lonzo Ball has started in front of him and will continue to do so.
Rondo was brought in as a mentor to the young LAkers and that is going to continue.
Asked Josh Hart if he expects some “Coach Rondo” on the sideline while he’s out. “Oh definitely, without a doubt.” Hart added that they’ll certainly miss what Rondo brings, and have to collectively step up in his absence.
Now, LeBron has passed Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list.
LeBron scored 44 points in the Lakers’ win over the Trail Blazers on Wednesday to move ahead of Chamberlain for fifth in career points. LeBron now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
LeBron had his finest game with the Lakers on Wednesday, posting 44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks in a 126-117 victory. He tried and failed to get a triple-double late, but he still got the win and an enhanced place in NBA history.
Next up for LeBron: Jordan, the only top-six all-time scorer who never played for the Lakers.