Professional football was not part of the 2012 Olympic Games. Yet Sunday’s Gold medal basketball game between the United States and Spain was physical enough to make NFL's hardest hitters wince a bit.
But the Americans had their own linebacker this day. His name is LeBron James.
In a game defined by foul after foul and grinding stop-and-go tempo, James and the United States overcame a physical Spanish team to win the gold medal, 107-100.
Spain used a combination of scrappy defense and three-point shooting as its primary weapons of war against a fast and furious American team.
The tempo was exactly as the Spanish wanted in the first half. Spain’s big men dished to snipers Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez, as the Americans clung to a 59-58 half-time lead.
Navarro was on fire in the first half, scoring 19 points on four-for-six shooting. Fernandez added 12 points. Marc Gasol, brother of Pau Gasol, had to sit early with four fouls. Navarro and Fernandez would score just four more points the rest of the game.
Kevin Durant carried the U.S. in the first half, scoring 17-points on four-for-12 shooting. He was also 7-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Kevin Love added nine points on five-for-six shooting. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James also added eight points for the Americans.
Energy skyrocketed at the start of the second half. The Americans raised its defensive intensity, and attacked the rim with vengeance.
But Pau Gasol scored 15 points in the quarter to keep Spain in striking distance. Spain’s big men rolled down the lane time and time again, and the Americans could not adjust.
At the end of three quarters, the United States led in what seemed like a stalemate, 83-82. Gasol had 23 points. Durant had 27.
While Spain remain like a gnat that simply would not go away, the Americans managed to build a six point lead with under eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
But Spain hung tough. After Pau Gasol got poked in the eye, his brother Marc came in and delivered a key bucket to cut the score to 90-86.
Yet Durant struck back, draining a critical three-pointer to give the US a seven point lead. Durant's three gave him 30-points on the night.
On the next possession, Kobe Bryant, who had been relatively quiet to this point was fouled on a three-point shot. He drained two-of-three free-throws to give America a nine-point lead.
Perhaps buckling in the moment, Spain went ice-cold down the stretch, unable to finish on close buckets. While they scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, this team scored just 11 when it mattered most.
And in vintage fashion, King James turned the momentum, first with a free path slam, and then with a three-point shot with the shot clock winding down with under two minutes to play.
With the win, the American men's basketball team won its second Olympic gold medal in a row.
More importantly, the Americans proved they are not simply a one-hit wonder, on the 20th anniversary of The Dream Team.