The US Men’s Basketball team dropped it into cruise control yet again, beating Argentina by 26 points in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympic Tournament. In the other semifinal, Spain defeated Russia to set up a rematch of the gold medal final from Beijing 2008. As per usual, I have a few takeaways to share from this latest Dream Team drubbing.
[Photo Gallery: USA Basketball off the court]
Wake me when it’s over.
Yes, the game was close for a while. Yes, Argentina imposed their pace of play, preventing a bunch of US fast breaks in the first half, which kept them in it longer than, say, Nigeria. Yes, the US looked decent early on, though not earth shattering. All those things are true, but this game was a snoozefest. The whole contest had an air of inevitability. And maybe this whole tournament has, but I’ve held out hope that more competitive games were to come for Team USA. No matter how talented Manu Ginobli is, there’s only one of him. Argentina simply didn’t have the depth to stay with the Americans for a full 40 minutes. And the South Americans didn’t have the front line size to expose Team USA’s biggest weakness—a lack of low-post presence. And once Kevin Durant heated up from outside and LeBron James decided to slice through the heart of the Argentina zone to get easy buckets, the South American’s looked done for. So just as you guessed, the States applied their foot to the pedal in the third, gave one last look to the Argentineans in their rearview mirror and sped away in cloud of smoking tires and kicked-up dust. All the while, I practically slept until the final horn sounded and woke me from my stupor.
Little lingering animosity left over from the last game.
Less than a week ago, these two teams played in the final game of the group round. When it became a rout late on, Argentine guard Facundo Campazzo took out his frustration on Anthony, connecting on a low blow as the Knicks superstar took a jumper. Words were exchanged, benches glared angrily at each other and the postgame handshake was less than cordial. However, it didn’t seem like that lingered enough to affect today’s game. Perhaps the US was still upset about the cheap shot, but instead of employing some dirty tricks of their own (apart from an errant Tyson Chandler elbow after a dunk), they delighted in running up the score on the 2004 gold medal winners. As they say, living well is the best revenge.
We will not have a rematch of the controversial 1972 Olympic Final.
America used to not need professional basketball players to capture Olympic gold—the country sent collegians to the games to maintain supremacy over a sport it created. NBAers first came to the games in 1992, retaking the top spot for the US, which had finished with only bronze in 1988. The collegians did done a fine job, not losing a single game until the 1972 Final when the USSR took the title. But if you ask anyone on that USA squad, they didn’t lose that game.
Late in the contest, with the U.S. leading by one, the Soviet Union had the ball with three seconds left. They inbounded, failed to score and they U.S. celebrated their victory. But wait, officials said. They claimed the Soviets had tried to call a timeout, so they gave them another chance to inbound. They did, and once again they missed and the Americans celebrated their victory. But wait, the officials said. The clock hadn’t been reset to three seconds, so the Soviets should get another chance to win. Third time was a charm. The USSR inbounded it once again and this time they scored the winning layup. The Americans were stunned and felt they had been wronged. The U.S. refused to appear at the medal ceremony to receive the silver and to this day the players have not claimed their medals. They sit in a safe at the Olympic headquarters waiting for the players to pick them up.
Why do we mention this? Well, Russia, the largest country left after the USSR broke up in the early ‘90s had a real chance to square off against the US in the final to re-ignite the Cold War sports rivalry. They fell short against the Gasol brothers and Spain, so instead of a rematch of 1972, the Olympic Final will be a rematch of 2008. The game should be good, but the US-Russia final would have added some fun intrigue to gold medal round.