Silencio

Previous to watching this game I read an article that focused on the sentiment and emotion of Team USA’s final preparations. The tone of that article was pretty clear. There was nothing that was gonna stop Team USA, and so why not write instead of how the team was preparing for its final practice, the friendships forged, the ‘ups and downs’ through the years, etc. etc. It certainly had to be more interesting than what was expected to be another blowout.

I don’t blame Yahoo Sports! I’d never have expected this.

By now everyone knows. Spain lost to the ‘Redeem Team’ to settle for Silver (118-107), but at no point during the contest would you ever say they were ‘settling’. In fact, up to the last 3 minutes or so (just before Kobe sank a 3 that lead to that ‘silencio’ pose), Spain was in the thick of the fight.

Spain lead for most of the 1st Q, and was within 4 points a lot of the time during the 3rd. Even when it came close at 103-92, Spain kept coming and coming, up to 108-104 on a 3 point shot by Carlos Jimenez, who finished with 12 points. 6 Spaniards finished in double figures and played inspiring basketball, most notably Jimenez, Marc Gasol (who subs for brother Pau Gasol), Rudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes. They were even without Toronto Raptor Jose Manuel Calderon, who was unavailable with a muscle tear in his right thigh.

It is, without a doubt, one of the best basketball games I had seen in a long time, and what makes it better is that it is unexpectedly so, given the previous games were so lopsided they more often than not turn into US dunkathons.

Some observations:

I would never dream of questioning Coach Mike Krzyzewski, but really, the Redeem Team doesn’t look very fluid. He stuck through his 1st and 2nd units and substituted like clockwork, but as for plays I never saw Chris Paul or Deron Williams execute a play, except for the occasional rudimentary pick and roll with LeBron as the roller in the middle as the receiver.

For the most part, offguards Kobe and Dwayne Wade, usually playing together, created opportunities from either wing, usually resulting in a drive and dish. Anthony played PF (which I think is unusual), with Deron Williams, from what I saw, also playing offguard.

The USA Team plays run and gun 90% of the time, relying on defense resulting in long passes to players streaking down the court. This makes for breathtaking plays by the likes of LeBron and Wade, but if it doesn’t work, they need to work extra hard in getting back to D.

Without getting into stats, from what I saw the USA Team scores off second chance points and fastbreaks off turnovers from good defensive plays. But many times they start plays with extremely long 3 point shots or one on one plays to the basket, which is occasionally defended well. Really if it weren’t for an inspired rebounding performance by either Chris Bosh or Dwight Howard, USA would’ve had a far more difficult time.

And on the D side, well there wasn’t much. It was pretty intense, and Marc Gasol seemed determined to get Anthony’s goat with physical play, but other than that, it was mostly one on one. There were a bunch of miscues from both teams, the most telling of which was Ricky Rubio’s foul in the last few seconds resulting in a freethrow shooting exhibition by USA in the dying seconds. Sure by that time they were pretty gone anyway, but it was still a bad move. Pity, because Rubio is a very exciting player to watch and he played exceedingly well, ending with 6 points and 6 rebounds.

Re Spain – I’m glad that there isn’t some governing body that can control National Teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spain actually gave their 1st game away, in an elaborate plan to lull USA into assuming that this last game would be a walk in the park. I’ve always suspected FIBA and Europe team owners to be crafty types who would resort to feigning weakness and other gimmickry to win tournaments, so their sudden burst of performance at this last game shouldn’t be a surprise. If that had happened in the NBA, there’d be an investigation on game throwing by now, but on the World stage, there is no way that’s gonna happen. I like that, I really do. It makes for surprises and would work to keep every team on their toes.

Overall, the whole Olympic Men’s Basketball Show was a letdown except for this final game. It makes me realize even more that the reason why I like watching basketball – or any sports for that matter – is only partly because of the amazing things highly trained athletes can do – even if it is the likes of LeBron James. I still remember a game where he jumped, literally from the freethrow line in a half court situation. It was astounding to watch and is the sort of thing that legends are made of. However, they won that game by 20 points or something, and I don’t even remember who they played against, because it was boring. You clap and you cheer the occasional fantastic act of superior athleticism, but as a whole I was ready to take a nap.

Great, exciting games, like this last one, are really the stuff that wakes the blood up. I could almost feel my heart pumping when Spain scored 6 or 7 in a row to come within 4, and I was starting to try and grasp the concept of USA possibly losing and coming home with silver instead. I paid attention to everything that came out of my TV, from the cheers to the stats, the clock, the expressions on the faces of the players, Bryant’s finger firmly planted on his lips as he looked into the crowd. I bit my lips myself, shaking my head in disbelief. That was a fantastic shot by the acknowledged greatest player in the world today. It wasn’t over the top, but it sent a message.

At the same time, I was thinking ‘Boy was he lucky that shot went in.’ If you asked him, I’m sure, he’d always say he knew he’d score. But boy oh boy, that was defended, and a 3 wasn’t necessary at that point. It would have been disaster if it had not went in. That’s Kobe though, so it went in. He should thank his lucky stars it went in.

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