LONDON – Between them, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have scored more than 48,000 points in their NBA careers.
They both had steady, solid performances in Team USA’s gold medal-winning 107-100 victory over Spain on Sunday at North Greenwich Arena, but Kevin Durant made the greatest impact on the scoreboard for the Olympic champions.
Scoring a game-high 30 points, including 9-for-10 at the free-throw line, Durant helped the United States overcome Spain star Pau Gasol’s inspired 24-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist effort. Spain also finished runnerup to the United States at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.
The U.S. led 83-82 entering the fourth quarter and took care of business down the stretch to capture the Olympic gold for the 14th time.
Point guard Chris Paul canned a falling-down 3-pointer and converted a driving layup early in the fourth to make it 90-84. Marc Gasol, Pau’s younger brother and fellow NBA big man, hit a short jumper in the lane to cut it to four. Durant answered with a 3-pointer from the right side with 6:10 remaining.
Durant didn’t hesitate to take the shot, something he was more reluctant to do in the past on this All-Star cast of players.
“When we first got together as a team I was passing those shots up, tending to take the dribble instead,” said the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star, who led the Americans with 19.5 points in eight Olympic games. “I am lucky to have a great team who encourage me.
“The team is different now. I have Chris Paul telling me to shoot. If I hit one, I look over and see my team jumping up and down for me. That’s a great feeling.”
A Bryant putback raised the lead to 97-87 moments later, and the Dream Team did not relinquish its lead the rest of the way, though it was not a foregone conclusion at that point.
Marc Gasol’s two-handed slam sliced the lead to 99-93. This game had the makings of a potential down-to-the-wire classic finish, and that didn’t annoy the Americans’ top stars, who are accustomed to fans expecting them to win blowouts every time against international foes. (The U.S. outscored its eight opponents 924-667 in the Olympic tournament.).
“We have an incredible team, we love when it gets tight,” said Bryant, who announced after the game he has retired from the national team. “That’s when our will and determination shows, it was the same in 2008 we played against those guys, who are a great team and much respect to them.”
James knocked down a pullup 3-pointer to stretch the lead to nine with 1:59 left. Pau Gasol was called for an offensive foul on Spain’s next possession at the 1:52 mark. And then the scoreboard read USA 104, Spain 93, with Paul finding a gap in the Spaniards’ defense to score a bucket in the lane and sealing the win for U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team.
“I would like to congratulate the great team from Spain for the magnificent performance and also Russia on their bronze medal,” Krzyzewski said. “The tournament was spectacular and Great Britain was an amazing host. We know that we won a great basketball game today. I thought we were really good, and we had to be in order to win. Their size hurt us, our guys have come through all the time.”
Spain’s tenacious play at both ends of the floor and the size of the Gasol brothers kept the underdogs even in the battle on the boards, which ended up 37-35 in Team USA’s favor.
Captain Juan-Carlos Navarro had 19 of his 21 points in the first half, and, thanks to his sharp play, Spain trailed 59-58 at the break. Navarro was 4-for-9 from 3-point range; only Durant (5-for-13) had more 3-pointers on the afternoon.
Marc Gasol finished with 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting and Rudy Fernandez scored 17 points. Serge Ibaka came off the bench and gave Spain 12 points and nine rebounds.
James poured in 19 points with seven rebounds, a team-best four assists and two steals, while Bryant scored 17, Paul had nine and a game-high three steals. Kevin Love supplied nine points and nine rebounds. Carmelo Anthony had eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
Though some would consider this Dream Team a patchwork unit by comparison to past squads — Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose were expected to play in London before injuries — Coach K, the NCAA’s all-time winningest Division I coach, molded this unit into a potent force.
“He’s brilliant, he communicates very well, communicates accurately and he’s fun,” Bryant said of Duke’s longtime bench boss. “He’s a funny coach. He has a sense of humor and does not take himself too seriously. We have all enjoyed him immensely.”
In regard to a one-point advantage at halftime, Coach K told his players to seize momentum after the break.
“We have pretty much been a second-half team, because we come at them in waves,” recounted Bryant, revealing Krzyzewski’s message. “That’s what his message was — go out there and do what you have been doing for the whole tournament.”
The Olympic final was a fine showcase for Pau Gasol’s understated game: exceptional footwork, passing, court vision, shots with either hand, pick-and-rolls and overall leadership.
Going up against his vital Los Angeles Lakers teammate, Bryant relished the experience and relayed those words to Gasol aferward.
“I just told him that I love him,” the 33-year-old Bryant said. “That he did a fantastic job, that he played his heart out and told him to get some rest because we have a long one (NBA season) coming up and he just said that he’ll be ready.
“Pau and I are neck and neck in terms of age. I don’t know if he will play in Rio (2016 Olympic Games), I’m definitely not playing, so it holds a little bit more significance.”
Pau Gasol scored Spain’s first 13 points of the third quarter to give his team a 71-70 lead. But Bryant sank a 3 to put the Americans back on top.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” the elder Gasol said of earning the silver. “Obviously, there’s great pride and satisfaction from winning an Olympic medal, but we were close again against this team of excellent players. You have to have pretty much a perfect game to be able to beat them. I’m proud of our spirit and how close we were.”
Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said, “I am really proud of how our team competed tonight and throughout the whole tournament, with commitment, great togetherness, discipline, respect, ability, talent but this time more for their character than their skills.
“We cannot be happy. We came here to win, to seize an opportunity which has happened maybe once or a couple of times where a country other than the U.S. has won.
“We joked that we will have to keep them below 100 points to win. We did it, we scored 100 but you have to give great credit to the U.S. for their talent. They are filled with skillful players.”
After the game, James said the Olympic experience was exciting.
“It’s been a great ride,” said James, weeks after leading the Miami Heat to an NBA championship. “I don’t know if I am going to be a part of the 2016 (Rio Olympic Games) team. (Coach K) already said he’s done and we’ve had a great ride. We’ve had ups and downs, but thankfully there have been more ups than downs. I’m happy to be on the floor with such a great and legendary coach.”