Image: Redeem Team
Jed Jacobsohn  /  Getty Images
The Redeem Team has played with much more chemistry and passion than the 2004 Olympics team, msnbc.com contributor Mike Celizic writes.
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msnbc.com news services
updated 8/22/2008 4:19:18 PM ET 2008-08-22T20:19:18
OPINION

The possibility is slight that the Redeem Team will need a last-second basket to beat Spain and bring the Olympic gold medal back home to the United States. But in sports, anything is possible, so the question has to be asked: Who will take that shot?

Is it Kobe Bryant? LeBron James? Carmelo Anthony? Chris Paul? Dwyane Wade? Dwight Howard? Chris Bosh?

Every one of these players is the go-to guy on his own NBA team, and when you put such players together, the danger is always that they will forget about the team concept and try to do it by themselves. They all want the ball in that situation, and when they get it, they’re not used to giving it up.

If you’ve watched this team march methodically to its gold-medal showdown Sunday with Spain, you already know how it will go down in the closing moments if the United States needs one shot to win it. The guy who takes the shot will be the guy who’s open.

That’s how this team has gotten into a position to reclaim its standing as the best basketball team in the world. In every game, somebody different has stepped up. In every game, the ball keeps finding the players who are in position to make the play.

Granted, the Redeem Team hadn't needed any particular heroics before Friday night’s semifinal against Argentina. All that sharing-the-wealth stuff hadn’t really been tested under pressure.

But Friday night, the team rolled out to a huge early lead — 21-4 with two minutes left in the first quarter. Then, with Argentina’s top player, Spurs star Manu Ginobili, down with a badly sprained ankle, the U.S. team lost its defensive focus. Stupid foul followed stupid foul followed forced shot followed turnover until with 2.9 seconds left in the half, Argentina was just six points back. Three free throws by Carmelo Anthony made the halftime score 49-40, but Argentina went into the locker room thinking they actually had a shot.

Slideshow: Emotional moments Anthony was the night’s leading scorer for Team USA with 21, but the man who restored order when the third quarter began was Jason Kidd, the veteran guard. He had been starting every game but had been so ineffective, observers were wondering why he was on the team.

Friday night Kidd answered that question. He pushed the ball up the court, found the open men, delivered pinpoint passes inside that led to easy hoops, and three minutes into the third quarter had build the nine-point halftime lead to 17 points. Kidd scored only two points, but he had seven assists, most of them in that short burst.

“He’s the first guy I went to in the locker room,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Kidd. “I told him, ‘That was by far your best game.’ ”

The third quarter decided a game whose final score would be 101-81, and, the coach said, “Jason was the primary reason for that.”

The other thing Krzyzewski praised about his team was how involved the players are in the game and each other’s play. Chris Bosh, the Toronto forward who has stepped it up big time on the world’s biggest stage, has been a revelation, Krzyzewski said.

“He’s played with such maturity and smarts,” the coach said, adding that Bosh’s influence extends to the bench, where he’s constantly giving pointers to his teammates.

He shares time at center with Howard, and when Bosh was on the bench, he was constantly yelling at Howard about defensive positioning and technique, then continuing the conversation on the sidelines when both were out of the game.

James, too, could be heard yelling defensive advice from the bench to point guard Chris Paul. The team has four men listed as coaches, but if you’re in earshot of the bench, it’s soon clear that everybody’s a coach, everybody’s involved.

That’s why there won’t be a fight for the honor of taking the big shot if it comes to that. Kobe and LeBron, the two biggest stars on the team — and in the world — have picked their moments, scoring in double digits, but not putting up huge numbers. Friday, LeBron had 15, with eight of them coming in about a minute at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Kobe had 12, the same as Wade and Paul.

They haven’t needed to score more, haven’t needed to take the game over. Instead of one or two guys carrying the load, it’s spread out. Against Argentina, seven players scored in double figures and every player except Carlos Boozer, who played just two minutes, had at least one rebound with Bosh leading the Americans with 10.

This is the definition of balance. It’s a testament to the unselfish way the Redeem Team has played. In the process, they’ve already told us who will take the big shot if it ever comes down to that — the man who’s in the best position to make it.

Mike Celizic writes regularly for msnbc.com and is a freelance writer based in New York.

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