The USA Basketball team took another step closer to reestablishing themselves as the team for the world to beat.
In a rematch with defending champion Spain, the United States went to work early, never giving the Spanish much of a chance to make it a contest. Hitting seven of their first ten three-point attempts, the United States took a commanding 16-point lead heading into halftime.
LeBron James led the USA squad with 18 points, followed by a strong shooting performance by Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 16.
Anthony, who remembers the bitter taste of being embarrassed on the world stage all too well, shot six of eight from the field—including four of six from behind the arc. Dwyane Wade also chipped in with a strong performance, shooting eight for twelve from the field en route to amassing 16 points.
Finishing with 119 points may give the appearance that the USA’s strong point was offense. However, those who got up Saturday morning to catch the red, white and blue saw a relentless defense that absolutely smothered Spain.
Despite having a comfortable lead at halftime, the USA went on to hold Spain to 18 points in the third quarter and 19 in the fourth. It was a testament to what Coach K has preached all year—the tournament will be won by strong play on the defensive end.
Kobe Bryant has been the leading defender on the team, playing unselfishly and doing whatever it takes to shut down the opponent team's number-one scorer. Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez, Spain’s duo of quick scoring guards, combined for a mere 12 points on 4-17 shooting.
Bryant and Jason Kidd were largely responsible for frustrating the Spaniards. Juan Navarro wasn’t effective either. Navarro shot two for ten on his way to a disappointing five points in 19 minutes of playing time.
But the greatest individual story for the USA basketball team has been the resurgence of Dwyane Wade.
“This is the best I’ve seen him since the Finals,” said James, referring to Wade’s superman performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals. Wade’s knee looks to be healthy, as he has provided highlight reel dunks and passes through the first four games in Beijing.
Not to be forgotten is Kobe Bryant. He has been playing with torn ligaments in his pinky finger since early last season. He deferred surgery, against the opinion of team doctors, so that he could help the Los Angeles Lakers go deep into the playoffs—and so that he could keep true to his commitment to the USA Basketball team. His unselfishness and willing to put his own health on hold is something that should not be forgotten.
Once considered a selfish, arrogant, me-first type of player, Bryant has had his praises sung by each of the USA Olympic basketball players, due to his willingness to put scoring aside in favor of hard-nosed defense.
USA Basketball is halfway to bringing home the Gold. The hurdles of rematches with Greece and Spain now behind them, don’t look for the USA squad to slow down.
With continued commitment to defense and strong shooting, the USA basketball team has reestablished itself as the greatest squad on earth—bar none.