Order is restored in international basketball. The United States is back on top, but not by much.
Culminating a three-year mission to end years of embarrassment, the U.S. Olympic team survived a huge challenge from Spain, winning 118-107 Sunday in the gold-medal game.
After overwhelming everyone for seven games, the Americans led by only four points with under 2½ minutes to play. Then the U.S. proved it could handle a close game that seemed would never come in Beijing.
Their prize: the first U.S. gold medal since the 2000 Olympics.
Dwyane Wade scored 27 points for the Americans, who found a much gamer Spanish team than the one it humiliated by 37 points earlier in the tournament. Kobe Bryant added 20 points.
In a game so void of defense that it felt more like an NBA All-Star game than one with a title at stake, the Americans had too much offense down the stretch. Bryant converted a clutch four-point play with 3:10 remaining, holding his finger to his lips to quiet the rowdy Spanish crowd behind the basket.
Wade added another 3-pointer that made it 111-104 with just over 2 minutes left, and only then could the Americans relax a little.
They began to celebrate during a break after some technical fouls on Spain with 26 seconds left, then celebrated at midcourt when it was over with “Born in the USA” blaring over the arena’s speakers.
Nobody else had been close to the Americans in Beijing. This team’s only Olympic competition had been history, in a Dream matchup with guys named Jordan, Magic, Bird and the rest of the U.S. team that dominated the Barcelona Games in 1992.
Forget comparisons to those guys. The Americans were lucky to be better than Spain on Sunday.
Rudy Fernandez scored 22 points and Pau Gasol had 21 for the Spanish, the reigning world champions who were hoping to win their first Olympic gold.
U.S. players appreciated the game Spain gave them. After the contest they hugged the Spainish players. Bryant had an especially long embrace for Gasol, patting his Los Angeles Lakers teammate on the back.
Seeming to appreciate the moment, after congratulating Spain, the team joined in a circle, jumping up and down at center court and waving triumphantly to the crowd as coach Mike Krzyzewski applauded on the sidelines.