It was not supposed to be like this. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James said Team USA could beat the 1992 Dream Team of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, et al.
But could they beat Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game in the London Olympics?
Turns out, they could, but only after a late-game finish – keyed by tough defense and – that pushed the United States to a too-close-for-comfort 107-100 victory.
It was hardly resounding, but it was good enough – for the gold and to squash discussions about comparing it to the ’92 team that crushed opponents by an average of 43 points a game.
In the scheme of things, it was only about the mission: winning gold. And the U.S. did that. How uptight and relieved were the Americans? When Chris Paul scored a layup in the final minute to put the United States up by 13 points, coach Mike Krzyzewski jumped as if his team had won the national championship.
Players, one-by-one hugged each other in exaltation in the waining seconds, their mission completely, if not dominant.
They had to overcome a strong effort by Spain’s Pau Gasol, who had 15 of his 24 points in the third quarter. The Los Angeles Laker took advantage of the Americans’ smallish interior defense.
When Bryant scored on a bank shot off an offensive rebound with 4:25 left, the U.S. built a 97-87 lead. But Bryant and Carmelo Anthony had turnovers and Spain battled back to within six points.
The Spainards went to a “box and one” defense against Kevin Durant, who had 30 points early in the fourth quarter.
James swooped in for on a dunk with 2:46 to play to put the U.S. back up 99-91, setting the stage for the climatic finish. Marc Gasol scored on the other end and James answered with a three-point jump shot with 1:59 to play to put Team USA in front, 102-93.
That turned out to be enough to bring home the gold for a team that would not have been welcomed back to America had it not.