Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant started off their respective quests for Olympic basketball gold by helping their Spanish and America squads defeat China and France in affairs that were never truly in doubt.
Spain held a safe lead throughout before beating China 97-81, and the USA blew things open with a 30-15 second quarter en route to a 98-71 victory against an NBA-laden French side. Bryant needed to play only 12 minutes towards 10 points in the blow out, but Gasol was the key for Spain, scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds as the focal piece to his country’s offense.
The Spanish captain – not to mention flag bearer – made 9 of the 15 shots he took and also dished four assists, second only to his younger brother Marc’s five. Yi Jianlian kept the Chinese in the game for a while thanks to his 30 point on 13 of 19 shooting, but a 10-point edge in the second and 8-point advantage in the fourth quarter made the difference.
Gasol had his full offensive arsenal, so familiar to Lakers fans, going by connecting on low post spin or up and under moves, hitting baseline turnarounds and fadeaways, sinking a mid range jumper and even dropping a three-pointer.
Of the six field goal attempts Bryant took, five were three-pointers, of which he made two along with four free throws. Bryant, selected to an All-NBA team in 14 of his 16 seasons, played aggressively on defense while simply moving the ball along if not open at the other end. Coach Mike Krzyzewski stuck to his pattern from the exhibition games of limiting Bryant’s minutes (at least until he’s needed, one would think) as Kobe did not play in the fourth quarter.
Up next for the Americans is a Tuesday tilt against Tunisia, while the Spaniards draw Australia on the other side of the bracket.