As expected, the United States took the Olympic gold in men's basketball, via a 107-100 conquest of three-time silver medalist Spain. It was not a lopsided match like what most people thought it would be. But the NBA's biggest stars would not succumb to the Spaniards' great team play and tactics, and deny the USA its 14th gold in the Olympics.
Basketball is a great team sport. And Spain played the best team basketball in London.
Against the Americans, the Spaniards spread the floor well and looked for opportunities to attack. They kicked the ball out to open shooters. They attacked in transition at every opportunity. They fed their big men in the post, and all shooters went to their sweet spots in case of a kick-out. They set good screens for shooters. They cut hard to the basket. They kept moving at a fast pace offensively. They played tough defense, even rough and physical at times. They shifted from 1-2-2 to 2-3 zones, (even at one time I think I saw what looked like a 1-3-1 zone) to man-to-man. They gang-rebounded. They did everything a high-level basketball team should do in a championship match. They kept the game close until the middle of the fourth. But they still lost. And Pau Gasol's 24 points and Juan Carlos Navarro's 21 didn't matter in the end.
In contrast, the elite squad of millionaires did what they do best — play with their superior individual skills. Against Spain's zone defenses, they did not run any plays. And coach Mike Krzyzewski would not even call a time-out, even when the 2011 Euro champions seized the lead at 39-37, with 7:22 left in the second period, from a 16-25 deficit.
The Dream Team, which is composed of the best basketball players in the planet today, went almost exclusively to drive-and-kick plays, regardless of Spain's defensive set-up. But they just shot the ball too well. Anybody who's free can bury the three-ball. And if the Spaniards guarded the gunners too much, anybody from the US side could've easily sliced through the defense and finished with an emphatic slam. And if they aren't driving and kicking, the Americans simply moved that ball swiftly until it finds the open man. Then boom! Piece of cake.
Only the US Dream can do what it did, that is to beat great team play with mere top-caliber skills. Spain is undeniably a great team. It is probably the best tactical team in the world right now, with excellent players in all positions. But its talent is just not at par with the American superstars.
At one point, Krzyzewski had Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the world's finest scorers, on the floor at the same time, with Chris Paul, arguably the best point guard today. Anyone of them can penetrate and shoot from long distance, at will. Durant ended up finishing with 30 points, while James and Bryant added 19 and 17 markers respectively.
Maybe the Spaniards should've played more deliberate basketball, and slowed down the pace to keep the USA from being in an offensive mode. But who's to say the Americans can really be slowed down? Easier said than done.
The US Dream Team swept the competition this year, as expected. And they did it without even breaking a sweat, save for the games against Lithuania, and Spain in the finals. In fact, the Americans toyed with most of their opponents, en route to effortless wins.
If we look at the stats, the NBA stars shot over 40% of their attempts from beyond the arc. The USA averaged 16.1 triples per game on a hot 44% field goal shooting. A distant second is Argentina with 9.5 treys per game. Who said the way to beat the Americans is to outshoot them from outside? In a shootout with these NBA greats, their opponents will surely fall. They also averaged 115.5 points per game, followed by Argentina's 86.3.
For as long as the United States will send its best cagers, it will be difficult for other countries to pull an upset. Individually, the Americans are just so above everyone else. And the thing is, despite all the enormous egos in the team, they have learned to play beautiful music together. So even if they play a lot of one-on-one, they still manage to find a balanced offense every game. Notice how in each of their wins, a different hero emerges.
Perhaps if the NBA sends its second-best unit, teams like Spain, Russia, Argentina, Lithuania, France and Brazil might have a chance to score a close victory over the US. Or if the NBA's team owners continue to complain about their top stars spending too much time outside their teams, maybe the US can return to fielding an all-amateur squad. But until then, the other countries might as well set their sights on the silver.
Or perhaps the Olympics should allow 10 players against the US' five on the floor, so each superstar can have at least two defenders to shackle him. Five-on-five will simply not work because if you double team on Kobe, he can easily kick out to LeBron or Melo or KD, not to mention the second stringers like Deron Williams, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Or a healthy Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade.
10 versus 5, maybe it will do the trick. But then again, I'm not sure.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.