Bryant, USA win Gold over Gasol’s Spain

We followed the gold medal game between Kobe Bryant’s Team USA and Pau Gasol’s Spain on Sunday morning from London, detailing how the two Lakers contributed to what was ultimately a hard-earned 107-100 gold medal victory for the Americans.

FIRST QUARTER:
10:00 So key for Team USA in the 2008 gold medal game in Beijing, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to go with six assists, Kobe Bryant opened this one with a pretty dish to a diving Tyson Chandler off pick and roll to get a layup. His LAL counterpart opened Spain’s effort with a slick, left-handed baseline hook over Chandler.

7:00 The triples started to fall for both teams, with Juan Carlos Navarro hitting twice for Spain (the second on a Gasol dish) and Kobe answering with two triples of his own to put the U.S. up 15-12. Bryant had been on fire from distance in the medal round*, nailing six in the second half of the quarters against Australia, and three in the semi’s against Argentina. As a team, the USA was at an impressive 45 percent from deep in the tourney.
*Hard not to notice his play improving as the games went on, helped perhaps by Lakers team physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto heading over to work with him in London.

0:00 Carmelo Anthony checked in for Team USA, going small with LeBron guarding Pau, and promptly scored eight points (two triples and a pull-up banker) to put the U.S. up 25-16 before Gasol could even touch the ball inside (resulting in two free throws when he finally did.) Gasol then flashed the high-low action we might see between him and Dwight Howard for the Lakers, this time with Serge Ibaka, allowing the OKC forward consecutive trips to the foul line before Gasol hit a pull-up J to keep Spain within seven.

SECOND QUARTER:
8:30: Gasol, yet to rest, opened the second with a driving finger roll lay up, scoring easily around Kevin Love, and his brother Marc got the Spaniards within a single point (37-36) moments later with a lofted turnaround J.

3:01 Spain hung tough throughout the second, playing a ton better than they did when the teams met prior to the tournament and Portugal’s Iberian peninsula neighbor played in general in the Olympics, almost playing possum for the Americans, down only four as Gasol swatted LeBron on one and and JCN scored on the other. Meanwhile, we saw a cut shot of Gasol’s girlfriend in the stands (just an FYI).

0:00 Bryant again rested for the final five minutes of the quarter – as has been typical with Coach Mike Krzyzewski giving the oldest U.S. player extra rest – as Rudy Fernandez drew a slew of fouls (tossing his body around a bit) and converted free throws to bring Spain within a point (59-58) at the break.

THIRD QUARTER:
7:52 Gasol continued to play excellent ball for his country, scoring three consecutive buckets – plus the foul on the first – with his running dunk then up-and-under around Love to put the Spaniards up 67-64. His brother Marc, meanwhile, was sitting with four fouls picked up in the first half in a choppy yet high-scoring game, with naturalized Spaniard Ibaka (from Congo but played professionally in Spain #loophole) in.

5:02 Memo to the USA coaching staff: Love can’t guard Gasol 1-on-1. For the fifth consecutive trip, Gasol either scored (this time an and-1) or drew a foul, his 13 points outscoring USA’s 11 in the quarter, giving Spain a 71-70 lead … only to be taken back by Kobe’s third triple.

0:00 Olympics hoops analyst Doug Collins has been calling Gasol the tournament’s best big man throughout, and he certainly proved it in the third, scoring 15 points to keep Spain within one (83-82) heading into a fourth quarter that would decide what color medal each nation would sport. Bryant picked his spots, with the Americans having much more balance as he, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe.

FOURTH QUARTER:
7:40 Having asked to guard Navarro, Bryant showed why in shutting the streaky Spaniard down after that early-game barrage, with Chris Paul (excellent in crunch time as usual) scoring five straight points to make it 90-84. The only thing that sat Gasol on the bench was an inadvertent hand to the face from LeBron, drawing blood that needed tending to on the sideline.

6:00 Time for two big fourth quarter plays from Kobe: 1) Remember when Rudy Fernandez fouled Bryant on a game-sealing three-pointer in China in 2008? Here he did so again, though Bryant missed only his second free throw of the tourney before hitting the second and third (15 points) to make it 95-86; 2) An offensive rebound off Melo’s missed three, which he stuck back in off glass to make it a 10-point lead.

2:40 Yet with LeBron on the bench in foul trouble, the U.S. then turned it over on back-to-back trips (Kobe then Anthony), giving Spain a chance to get within four when Gasol’s leaner in the paint rimmed out. Instead, LeBron’s driving dunk (Spain didn’t know whether to switch a pick) and pull-up three put the U.S. back up 11, sealing the deal.

0:00 The United States of America are Olympic gold medalists in basketball again. The final: 107-100. Bryant was taken out alongside James and Durant in the final minute to a rousing cheer. He could be seen getting emotional in his final Olympic experience, sharing hugs first with his USA teammates, then with Gasol, the two congratulating one another on a terrific game … and who knows, maybe sharing a knowing glance that they’d soon be playing alongside Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Bryant finished with 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting (3 of 7 from three) with two boards, two assists and a steal, while Gasol carried his country with 24 points (9 of 17 field goals), eight boards and five assists plus a steal while playing nearly the entire game.

So it’s silver for Pau, and gold for Kobe for the second straight Olympics in a spirited game between the two best basketball playing nations.