London, England – Make it back-to-back Olympic gold medals for the U.S. men's basketball team.
Four years after beating Spain for the title at the Beijing Olympics, the Americans repeated the feat with a 107-100 victory over the Spaniards to claim gold at the London Games.
It did not come easy.
Spain was within one at halftime and it was the same margin after three quarters, but the Americans used a 12-3 spurt early in the fourth to gain some breathing room and held off one last Spanish run to win it.
Kevin Durant drilled a three-pointer during the decisive burst and finished with 30 points for the Americans, while LeBron James chipped in 19 and added two key baskets in the closing minutes to help seal the 14th Olympic title for the United States. The Americans have won five of the six gold medals since NBA stars began Olympic play at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
"We knew we could have been beaten in this tournament, Argentina was good enough and Spain could have beaten us tonight," said Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who also guided the U.S. team in the 2008 Olympics and likely coached his last game for the U.S. national team. "Without the respect that my players had for these teams we could have been beaten."
Pau Gasol scored 24 points for Spain, which earned a silver medal for the third time.
"It's tough losing a final, but at the same time we have to appreciate the fact that we got an Olympic silver medal," said Gasol. "The United States are an amazing team. We were close at times, but we couldn't play the perfect game we needed to beat them."
The Spaniards gave the Americans all they could handle through three quarters and trailed just 83-82 entering the final period. After a trade of baskets to start the fourth, Chris Paul's three ignited a U.S. surge that finally created some distance.
Paul added a basket on the next U.S. trip to make it 90-84 and James went out with his fourth foul soon after. Marc Gasol, who sat out the entire third quarter with four fouls, countered with a bucket for Spain, but Durant followed with a big three and Kobe Bryant drained a pair from the line.
Pau Gasol's free throw briefly interrupted the U.S. run, but Bryant's tough shot in the lane with 4 1/2 minutes left gave the Americans a 97-87 advantage.
Spain came back with four straight before James checked back into the game, and the NBA's MVP made his presence felt with a dunk and a three -- surrounding Marc Gasol's dunk -- to give the U.S. a 102-93 cushion with just under two minutes to play. Paul's basket a minute later extended the margin to 11 and the Americans made just enough free throws to keep Spain at bay.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said James. "We know Spain is a great team; they match up well with us, and we match up well with them. They tested us more than any team. We felt like that was going to happen again tonight. This is a great team and they wanted redemption. We are just happy that we were able to make enough plays, get enough defensive stops and come through for our team."
Paul finished with 11 points and Bryant, in what he says is his last Olympics, contributed 17 in the victory.
"The closer the game got, the more focused we got, the more intense we got," noted Bryant.
Juan Carlos Navarro scored 19 of his 21 points in a hot-shooting first half for the Spaniards. Marc Gasol added 17 points, while Rudy Fernandez chipped in 14. Pau Gasol also had eight rebounds and seven assists in an all-around stellar performance.
Spain came out hot. A four-point play and another triple by Navarro helped the Spaniards open a 12-7 lead. The Americans, though, responded with an 18-4 run. Carmelo Anthony's three capped the burst and gave the U.S. a 25-16 advantage.
The Americans carried a 35-27 lead into the second, but Spain scored the first seven points of the period to pull within one and took a 39-37 lead soon after on a three by Sergio Rodriguez. The lead changed hands a few times over the next several minutes, but a 7-0 run gave the U.S. a 50-44 edge midway through the second.
Navarro answered with another three to keep Spain close, but it was still a seven-point U.S. margin in the final two minutes. The Spaniards, however, closed the half with a 7-1 run to make it a 59-58 difference at the break.
Spain then went inside in the third quarter, as Pau Gasol scored the team's first 13 points of the period and finished the stanza with 15. His basket gave Spain a 67-64 edge, but the Americans eventually opened a 77-72 lead on a pair of Bryant free throws with 3 1/2 minutes left in third. Spain, however, kept it close and still trailed by one entering the fourth.