(Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
By Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY
LONDON - Lack of height and suspect defense were the U.S. men's basketball team's primary concerns coming into the London Olympics.
It almost cost the Americans the gold medal.
Playing its best game in the Olympics, Spain used fabulous guard play and its size advantage to gave the USA its biggest scare.
However, the USA outlasted Spain 107-100 Sunday and won its second consecutive gold medal in a game that turned out to be closer than expected.
The USA, which won a tight 99-94 game against Lithuania in group play, didn't wilt under the intense pressure.
Kevin Durant's three-pointer with 6:25 left in the game gave the U.S. a 93-86, its biggest lead of the second half until that point. The Americans led by just a point heading into the third quarter, but used offense and defense to pull away late in the fourth quarter.
It was reminiscent of the 2008 gold medal game, in which the U.S. won 118-107 but led by just two in the fourth quarter. It was another fabulous game by Spain, regarded as the second-best team in the world.
Seven-footers Pau and Marc Gasol and 6-10 Serge Ibaka gave the U.S. trouble, in part because Spain's guards, who have been inconsistent in London, came to play.
Juan Carlos Navarro's outside shooting opened up room for the Brothers Gasol and Ibaka. However, Spain played with half of the second quarter and all of the third quarter without Marc Gasol who picked up his fourth foul in the second quarter. Spain coach Sergio Scariolo inexplicably left him in the game when he collected his third foul.
To its credit, Spain didn't let the U.S. run away with Marc Gasol on the bench. But it didn't have enough to contend with the USA's offensive firepower.
The U.S. has won 14 of the 16 gold-medal games in which it has played and is now 130-5 in Olympic games. The U.S. has now won 17 consecutive Olympics games and have furthered distanced itself from the bronze-medal debacle at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Not coincidentally, the U.S. turnaround in this decade began when Jerry Colangelo took over as USA Basketball's chairman in 2005, stabilizing the program by naming Mike Krzyzewski coach and securing long-term commitment from the USA's best NBA players.
This U.S. may not have been as good defensively as the 2008 gold medal team, but defensive deficiencies were minimized by unmatched offensive weapons.
The ability of LeBron James, Chris Paul and Deron Williams to create open shots for themselves and others, namely Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant - made it near impossible for an opponent to stop the U.S. from scoring. The Americans scored at least 90 points in every game, more than 100 points in six and punished teams with its three-point shooting.
While the rest of the world has closed the gap in 20 years since the 1992 Dream Team at the Barcelona, James, Bryant, Anthony, Durant, Deron Williams and Chris Paul ensured the U.S. is still the best.
Earlier Sunday, Russia beat Argentina 81-77 for the bronze medal. It was the Russians' first Olympic basketball medal since 1988 when the Soviet Union won gold. That was the last Olympics before professional basketball players were allowed to compete.