Juan Carlos Navarro began the game on a mission — to open up the game from the perimeter, slash to the hoop and create space for Marc and Pau Gasol to maneuver. Navarro accounted for 12 of Spain’s first 16 points, including three 3-pointers. He finished with 21 points, while Pau added a team-high 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
The end result for their valiant effort — a silver medal after the United States pulled away in the final minutes. Team USA, stifled by the tight officiating that allowed Spain to slow the Americans optimal pace and attempt 32 free throws, scored 107 points in their eighth consecutive victory in London. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t ugly, it just was.
The United States began the first quarter fending off the ridiculously hot Navarro. When he settled down a bit — he knocked down three 3-pointers in the first three minutes alone — they orchestrated a 10-2 run that separated themselves from the dogged Spanish team.
The Spanish mixed their zone and man-to-man defenses effortlessly in the second period, cutting off passing angles and forcing the Americans to settle for otherwise poor shots. After compiling seven assists in the previous quarter, Team USA remarkably didn’t record an assist in the entire second quarter.
They managed to do so even after Marc Gasol picked up his fourth personal foul on Kevin Love with 5:29 left in the quarter, a pivotal call that would relegate the younger Gasol to the bench in a two-point game. At the end of the first half, the lead was cut to one point. Spain’s attack was top-heavy; Pau, Navarro and Rudy Fernandez accounted for 39 of their 57 points. The rest of the team accounted for 18 points on 38% shooting.
Without an intrinsic part of their rotation, the efficacy of the rest of Spain’s frontcourt wasn’t affected in the third frame. Their success entailed a slower pace, in addition to the multitude of fouls deliberately preventing Team USA from utilizing their athleticism, a necessity considering they were already at a disadvantage from the beginning.
Pau scored 15 points in the quarter to outpace Kevin Durant, who scored 10 points of his game-high 30 points in the third quarter. Ibaka capitalized on his opportunity, finding him some space of his own to contribute offensively. The lead remained one point and the Spaniards would be presumably adding Marc for the pivotal fourth quarter.
Marc entered the game with 7:23 remaining to give Pau a breather. He immediately launched a difficult floater over Love that found it’s way into the hoop. The lead was four points then before Durant knocked down a 3-pointer and Kobe Bryant drew three free throws of his own. The game wasn’t over because Spain immediately responded with buckets from Fernandez and Navarro.
Spain’s transient run evaporated as the Americans slowly pulled away. LeBron James’ only 3-pointer of the night, over the helpless Marc Gasol, gave the Americans a nine-point lead with 1:59 remaining. By then, it was over. Chris Paul’s layup, with the game pretty much in hand, caused the nominally cool Mike Krzyzewski to temporarily unleash his emotions.
It just felt right.
If that was Krzyzewski’s last moment as a coach of the United States, it was fitting for a guy who has revitalized the American program after their debacle in Athens.