Bryant, Wade lead USA to tough victory over Spain in Olympic medal showdown (or, according to the Ball Don't Lie blog: "Red, White, and Whew").
After missing the epic Nadal-Federer Wimbledon showdown this year, I wasn't going to miss Spain v. USA in the Olympic basketball gold medal match. It lived up to the hype. Were it not for Kobe and Wade each making a trey in the last six minutes to fend off Spain, Spain might have won. The final score was 118-107, but the score doesn't reflect how close the game was until the last two minutes. The last minute included four giveaway free throws from Spain to the USA, including an unsportsmanlike foul, and an easy missed layup after the outcome was in little doubt.
Both teams shot around 50%. Kobe committed several unnecessary fouls, because he always plays hard on defense, even when his team is ahead and should strategically avoid going for the steal. USA would have lost without Kobe--other than one poorly attempted three pointer, it didn't seem like Kobe missed a shot in the last four minutes. His four-point play--when he made a trey and the ensuing free throw--caused an eventual breakdown in Spain's composure, as it caused a Spanish player to foul out at a crucial time.
From my vantage point, the referees did not favor either side--they let the teams play, which is one reason the game was so close. But when the refs take a hands-off approach until the last few minutes, some calls will be questioned because of the inconsistency.
The rule differences between the NBA and Olympic rules are well explained here:
The surprises of the game? First, Juan Carlos-Navarro. He currently plays in the Euroleague, so he's more familiar with the Olympic rules, which allow a zone defense. (Spain's 2-3 zone defense was stellar, forcing USA to take more outside shots). Navarro broke down the USA man-to-man defense at will, scoring teardrop layups on almost every possession. He played so well, Jose Calderon didn't get much floor time.
Second, Rudy Fernandez, who signed with the Portland Trailblazers, played intelligently and effectively. Portland is going to have a monster team--here is their expected 2008 roster:
PG Brandon Roy
SG Rudy Fernandez
C Greg Oden / Joel Przybilla
SF Martell Webster
PF Ike Diogu / Channing Frye
Young, but deadly. No other NBA team has this kind of young talent, especially if Jerryd Bayless lives up to the hype. Anyway, back to the Olympics.
Dwight Howard seemed absent in the game, but that's due to outsized expectations--if he doesn't pull down 15 boards a game, we say he's having a bad day.
Lebron had some nifty passes and steals, but didn't score much. He's always been criticized for not scoring enough, but the Olympics confirmed this bias--he is definitely more comfortable passing than scoring. Blame Magic Johnson and the dazzling "Showtime" highlight reels.
Bottom line: Kobe and Wade took over--Lebron's time will come later.
Update on 9/15/2008: Bill Simmons' take on this incredible game is similar to mine: