The United States returned to the top tier of the basketball world, fighting their way through all 40 minutes en route to a 118-107 win and their first gold medal in a tournament since 2000.
The same team that the United States beat by 37 in pool play was much more competitive, and brought the margin down to two early in the fourth quarter, before Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade made a number of crucial shots.
Wade led the team with 27 points, 21 coming in the first half. Bryant finished with 20 points—including the one that ended any sort of Spanish comeback.
The first quarter was very uncharacteristic of the Americans as they allowed not only Pao Gasol, but the entire Spanish team to score at will, en route to the most scoring the Americans had given up in a quarter.
The first quarter ended 38-31. Kobe and LeBron sat out most of the first quarter with two early fouls. Whistles ran rampant throughout the whole game, as the referees called every bit of contact from both sides.
The United States tried to deliver the knockout punch in the second quarter, and went up by double digits halfway through. Bur Spain made a number of clutch shots and brought the deficit back to single digits.
The United States had their slimmest lead of the Olympics, despite shooting above 60 percent, with a halftime score of 69-61.
Spain immediately came out on fire in the second half, getting big contributions from Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, and Juan Navarro. Gasol dominated the inside paint, while Fernandez and Navarro handled outside shooting and penetrating.
Navarro constantly had runners in the paint with no defensive pressure, and made a few to keep the game within Spain's grasp. The United States had a 14-point lead and looked like they would run away—but once again, costly turnovers and wild shots brought Spain right back into it as the U.S. only led by nine at the end of the third quarter.
Once again in the fourth, another huge run was put together by Spain, as they made a number of three-pointers to cut the lead to 91-89 early in the quarter. The Spaniards in the crowd were louder than ever now, as it looked like Spain might do the impossible and upset the Americans.
The teams traded shots, but it was the three-pointers that saved the U.S.
Up by three points with two minutes remaining in the game, Kobe Bryant spotted up for a three and nailed it with the foul, increasing the lead back to 7. Spain quickly made another three on the other end before star backup Wade stepped up again and extended the lead back to seven with little time remaining.
The United States continued to make their free throws and play better defense than Spain en route to their gold medal.
The American's were strongly outplayed on the boards. Spain outrebounded the U.S. 37-31, including a 15-8 advantage on the offensive glass, which helped increase Spain's second-chance points.
Free throws also proved to be necessary, as the teams combined to shoot 65 free throws, 37 of those by the United States. The U.S. missed 10, but made them when they needed to late in the game.
Rudy Fernandez led Spain with 22 points, including a thunderous dunk on Dwight Howard. Star center Pao Gasol finished with 21, as he made a number of easy alley-oops.
The United States made a team record 13 three-pointers, with four from Wade, three from Bryant, and two from LeBron. LeBron finished with 14 points.
Dwight Howard who held his ground for most of the game in the paint, and finished perfect from the field shooting 3-3 with eight points. Chris Paul once again continued his great free-throw shooting, hitting nine of 10, and finishing with 13 points.
The journey for the Redeem Team has ended, even though it wasn't always pretty. These Olympics will be the most memorable because of the Americans' return to the top, where they will remain for four more years until we do it all over again in London.
Who else can't wait to see Michael Beasley and Greg Oden break out their USA jerseys?