OK, so, in a game of basketball played 5-against-1, 5 wins every time, right?
But, wait, not so fast. What I mean is 5 great individual players against 1 great team. Even maybe the 5 best players in the world against a smart, highly motivated veteran team. Now who wins?
Well, the U.S. and Spain gave that scenario a test today for Olympic gold and, in fact, 5 (the U.S.) won, 107-100. But if you didn't see the game, you'll have to trust me on this. This one could have gone either way.
In fact, the U.S. was reeling--leading, but reeling--in the 2nd half. Leading because of Kevin Durant's 30 points on 5-of-13 3s, including 9 in the 1st quarter, which concluded with the U.S. ahead by 8. By way of contrast, Durant sat out much of the 2nd quarter, the U.S. made just 1-of-8 3s, and Spain stormed back to within 1 at 59-58.
Now, the U.S. was reeling because of a Spanish box-and-1 defense that caused one of he announcers to guess that this was the 1st time Kobe Bryant has ever seen an and-1 defense that wasn't for him. No, it was for Durant and it worked. Suddenly the U.S. couldn't find a way to score. Then Kobe, then Carmelo Anthony threw it away, and then LeBron got his 4th foul and was forced to the sideline.
For their part, Spain was led by point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who matched Durant 3-pointer for 3-pointer through the 1st half, finishing with 21 points and 4-of-10 3s, and the Gasol brothers. In the NBA, Marc and Pau Gasol are merely big. Against this U.S. roster they're huge. Tyson Chandler can't stop 'em. Kevin Love comes in and he's better, but he can't step 'em both.
The only thing that stops the Gasols is the officials, who are calling everything. 54 fouls in total, 27 on each team but, more importantly, 4 on Marc in the 1st half. That's right, 4 in the 1st half. So he has to sit out the entire 3rd quarter. Pau gets his 4th in the 4th and sits out a crucial stretch. But, hey, the Spaniards wanted a physical game and that's how they played it--in fact, getting both a flagrant and a technical foul in the 1st quarter to set the tone.
But the Americans had to defend Pau with LeBron, and thus James' too trip to the bench in the 4th quarter with his 4th foul, with the game very much in doubt.
So there's the set-up: Durant, Kobe, Carmelo, LeBron and company versus a well-oiled machine that alternately exploited the American's weak 3-point defense and its even weaker inside defense. Oh, and protected the ball, committing just 11 turnovers, same as the U.S., and limiting the American's fast break chances. That, in other words, perfectly executed a pretty good game plan.
But in the 4th quarter, talent took over.
• With the U.S. leading just 83-82, Kobe assists LeBron, then after a Spain lay-up, Chris Paul hits a 3 to make it 88-84.
• Paul gets another 2. 90-84
• LeBron gets a steal but then his 4th foul. Marc Gasol returns to the game and scores on a lay-up.
• Durant hits a 3 and Kobe 2 of 3: 95-86 at the 6:00 mark exactly.
• But still Spain comes roaring back. Kobe hits a 2 at 4:19 but Pau hits a throw and Navarro and Rudy Fernandez a pair of twos. Its 97-91 at 3:20 and the U.S. needs a timeout.
• LeBron dunks, but Marc answers with a dunk.
• Then LeBron hits the key basket, a 3 right over Marc. 102-93 at 1:51.
• The next score isn't til 0:53 on a Chris Paul layup. 104-93. And Coach K empties the bench. Game over?
• Still Spain comes back, making it a two-possession game at 106-100. But James Harden hits a throw and Spain cannot score on its final trip down the floor.
U.S. wins the gold. LeBron, Kobe, Kevin, 'Melo, Chris Paul win gold. Spain has to settle for silver and for being the best team.
See you in Rio.