U.S. men's basketball team aces final test

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2012 - 1:19 AM

Team USA gave coach Mike Krzyzewski the perfect going-away gift -- an impressive surge vs. Spain to secure the long-awaited gold medal.

LONDON - Mike Krzyzewski didn't hesitate for a moment when he was asked if he really was retiring from his role as coach of the U.S. men's basketball team. He couldn't think of a better way to go out, having just guided his players to a 107-100 victory over Spain for the Olympic gold medal on the final day of the London Games.

Krzyzewski got the customary postgame dousing from LeBron James, who scored 19 points Sunday and led the way in the fourth quarter. The coach leapt and danced on the sidelines of North Greenwich Arena as his players -- whose joy was tinged with a touch of relief -- celebrated their second consecutive Olympic gold. Spain gave them all they could handle in a rematch of the 2008 gold medal game, but the Americans got some distance with a 12-4 spurt at the beginning of the fourth quarter and refused to let go.

The U.S. offset its biggest deficiency, its lack of a true center, with a barrage of three-pointers and star turns from a host of players. Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 30 points, while James scored seven in the fourth quarter, including a thundering dunk and a three-pointer that put the U.S. up by nine with 1 minute, 59 seconds left.

Krzyzewski ends his Olympic tenure with the luster of the U.S. program restored. He and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo made that their mission when they took over in 2005, after an embarrassing showing at the Athens Games. At the end of Sunday's victory, which stretched their Olympic winning streak to 17 consecutive games, he embraced James and reveled in a job well done.

"It's a heck of a thing," said Krzyzewski, who is 62-1 as coach of the U.S. national team. "I love the way my guys responded today. We got some defensive stops and made some big shots. I'm really, really happy and proud."

NBA players have not always seemed touched by the Olympic spirit, but several spoke Sunday about how much it meant to them to be part of the Summer Games this year. Colangelo and Krzyzewski assembled a group dedicated to representing their country well, and the coach said they became as tightly bonded as any team at the Olympics.

Behind Lakers center Pau Gasol and hot-shooting Juan-Carlos Navarro, Spain led by as many as five early in the game. The U.S. took off on an 18-4 tear late in the first quarter to lead 35-27, but Spain never allowed it to pull away. At halftime, the Americans led by a single point, 59-58, and Gasol exploited their lack of size inside to score seven consecutive points in the third quarter and put Spain ahead 67-64.

U.S. guard Chris Paul said the players reminded themselves that defense would make the difference. They led 83-82 at the end of the third quarter in a game that saw 16 lead changes, and they turned up the pressure on Spain in the final 10 minutes. After James' dunk and three-pointer, Paul drove for a twisting, soaring layup that would have impressed the Olympic diving judges, putting the U.S. ahead 104-93.

"We said, we didn't fight for this long to come up short," Durant said, describing the chatter in a fourth-quarter huddle. "We just needed to do the things we were supposed to do and keep fighting."

After the buzzer, James Harden carried a large stuffed Olympic mascot -- in gold, of course -- into the middle of a more joyous huddle. Paul echoed what Krzyzewski said about the team's closeness, lamenting that the players would soon go their separate ways.

"It probably sounds crazy to say after winning a gold medal that this is bittersweet," Paul said. "It's sweet to have this gold medal around your neck, but it's tough, because you won't get this opportunity any more. I hate that in a couple months these guys are going to be my enemies. There was something about this 2012 team that was special. It's something I'll never forget."

Krzyzewski has repeatedly said during these Olympics that the basketball world has changed and the U.S. can no longer assume its superiority. He noted that this team took its opponents and its task seriously, something that made him particularly proud.

Before he leaves, he will take on one more task: debriefing with Colangelo, to help set a strategy to maintain the gains made in their seven years together. "What Jerry has established has been terrific,'' Krzyzewski said. "It's produced two Olympic gold medals and a world championship. That's a great run."

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