Spain forward Pau Gasol (4) is trapped between USA forward LeBron James (6) and guard Kevin Durant (5) during the men’s basketball gold medal game in the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
By Larry Fine
LONDON, Aug 12 (Reuters) – The United States were pushed to the limit in the game that mattered most and rose to the challenge to beat an inspired Spain 107-100 and win the Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball on Sunday.
With Kevin Durant leading the way with 30 points, the U.S. retained their Olympic title in a repeat of the closely-fought 2008 final in Beijing.
Spain, relying on the inside game of Pau Gasol and the outside shooting of Juan-Carlos Navarro, gave the powerhouse U.S. team their most serious test after the Americans had won their first seven games by an average margin of 35 points.
Both teams rushed the ball upcourt in non-stop action to the roaring delight of the 20,000 fans packed into North Greenwich Arena to see the gold medal game, and they were separated by just one point at halftime at 59-58.
The U.S. were still clinging to their one-point lead at 83-82 going into the fourth quarter of what felt like the final round of a knock-down, drag-out fight.
Point guard Chris Paul and LeBron James, however, took control at the start of the final quarter to give the United States some breathing room.
The Americans built a nine-point lead at 95-86 midway through the fourth, with Durant and Kobe Bryant taking turns scoring the ball.
After Spain’s Juan-Carlos Navarro sank a jumper and Rudy Fernandez tapped in a follow shot on a fast break, James took the spotlight with a drive he finished with a volatile slam and a three-pointer that restored the U.S. cushion.
James, who completed a grand slam of honors by adding London gold to his NBA Most Valuable Player award, his NBA Finals MVP and the NBA title he won with the Miami Heat, had 19 points as second-high scorer for the Americans.
“We just wanted to continue to work our habits, continue to share the ball, continue to make plays,” said James, who had a team-high four assists.
“But it starts with stops. If we don’t get defensive stops we don’t build that lead. It’s a one-point lead going into the fourth and we were able to build that lead and that’s what it’s about.”
Spanish center Pau Gasol, who scored the first 13 points for his team at the start of the third quarter to help them take a 71-70 lead, topped the scoring list for Spain with 24 points.
Navarro, who scored 14 points in the first quarter to open up the lane for Gasol to operate in, finished with 21 points.
“We know Spain is a great team they match up well with us, we match up well with them,” James said.
“They wanted redemption. We are just happy we were able to make enough plays and come through.”