In the previous three international competitions, the world witnessed anyone other than the United States men’s basketball team on top of the global stage.
The US has now earned that title back.
Team USA had to play four competitive quarters of basketball before beating Spain, 118-107. Spain was without its leader, Jose Calderon, but stayed within striking distance for much of the game.
Dwyane Wade (27 points) was the high-scorer, but Kobe Bryant emerged as the team-leader and scored 20 points. Thirteen of those points came in the fourth quarter, after Spain closed the gap to two.
The US struggled throughout all 40 minutes of the game. It started with Spain taking a five-point lead with 4:18 left in the first quarter.
Team USA responded with a 9-0 run, taking a 26-22 lead. The referees called fouls on instances that were incidental contact earlier in the Olympic showdown, putting players from both teams in foul trouble.
Bryant and LeBron James were forced to sit out much of the first half after picking up two fouls each in the first quarter. Foul troubles also affected Spain early on.
Ricky Rubio had little time to rest after the 17-year-old injured his wrist on a play late in the first quarter with backup point guard Raul Lopez picking up three fouls in under two minutes.
Both teams came out with hot shooting in the first half. The US made seven of its first 10 shots from beyond the arc, but Spain stayed in the game by playing tight man-to-man defense.
Carmelo Anthony opened up the lead to 13 on a three-point shot with 8:02 left in the half. Rudy Fernandez responded with a three-point shot of his own to bring the lead back down to 10.
Fernandez’s 14 points in the second quarter allowed Spain to hang around for the remaining part of the half, holding the US lead to six with under a minute left before the intermission. However, Spanish guard Berni Rodriguez fouled Chris Paul at the end of the half, allowing Team USA to end the second quarter with a 69-61 lead.
Spain took the momentum early in the second half, immediately showing zone defense and forcing two turnovers in the first minute. The first shot of the half came from Felipe Lopez after Carlos Jimenez stole the ball, leading to an easy basket at the other end.
Howard responded with a layup on the other end, extending the US lead to 71-63 with 8:24 left in the third quarter. Spain responded with two baskets of its own, bringing the deficit to four.
Juan Carlos Navarro kept the US on its heels with six of his 18 points in the third quarter.
Fernandez returned to the game in the fourth and hit a clutch three-point shot to bring the game within two points, forcing Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski to call time-out with 8:16 left in the game.
Bryant came out of the huddle and torched Spain in the final eight minutes. His biggest shot was a three-pointer with 3:12 left in the game while absorbing Fernandez's fifth foul, sending the Los Angeles Lakers star to the line for a four-point play.
Spain went on one final push, going on a 5-0 run with a three-pointer from Jimenez following a finger-roll from Navarro, making it a 108-104 game with 2:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Wade finished Spain off with a jumper from behind the arc, taking the game out of reach as Bryant showered Krzyzewski with his water bottle.