2012 Olympics: Gold Medal Preview
USA (A-1) vs. Spain (B-3) (3 p.m. London time/10 a.m. ET EST):
Four years ago these two teams engaged in a highly entertaining Olympic final in Beijing. In London, Team USA has done what was expected of them (besides a hiccup vs. Lithuania), while Spain has struggled to play up to its normal standards.
It's a bit disappointing we likely won't get the competitive matchup we were anticipating after Spain rolled through EuroBasket last summer.
In 2011, Spain looked the best they ever had with Marc Gasol's emergence and the addition of Serge Ibaka taking them to another level. These two things made Spain potentially more dangerous than the 2008 team and a legit challenger to Team USA.
Even in 2009 when Spain underachieved for much of the prelims, they eventually turned things around and steamrolled over the last five games. We thought maybe Spain was laying low in group phase this summer and they would turn it on in the knockout rounds.
But Spain struggled to get by France and Russia. So it seems that Spain wasn't really laying low, they just don't have that extra gear this summer. Would feel stronger about Spain's upset chances if they had played better up to this point.
The simple fact is Spain's offense just hasn't lived up to its capabilities. Currently shooting 44.7% from the floor and 32.8% on 3PA.
Though one interesting fact is Spain went into the 2008 Gold Medal game with nearly the same numbers: 44.7% FG pct. and 30% on 3PA through seven games, before exploding for 107 on 51.4% FG and 8-17 3PA (47%). So maybe there is hope.
A key reason Spain's struggling this summer is that Juan Navarro just doesn't have his fastball right now. Navarro has been one of the top FIBA players over the last decade and he was the MVP at EuroBasket last summer.
The foot problems have crimped his creative shot-making ability and he can't create space like he normally does (Juan is shooting only 29% on 2PA, 33% on 3PA).
If he can somehow pull out a vintage La Bomba game (he gave Team USA issues in 2008), then maybe Spain can make things interesting. He wasn't playing well in the 2008 Olympics before the finals either, but the difference this year is he's playing hurt.
Spain desperately needs big games from the perimeter guys, especially Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez. Calderon came up big in the semis (14 pts, four 3-pters.) but had been unimpressive in group play and frankly looked old. He has to show up vs. the U.S.
Rudy and Sergio Llull have helped Spain with their relentless attacking style on both sides of the ball. Sergio Rodriguez has also helped Spain for limited stretches with his speed and he could be valuable in this game as well.
Maybe the perimeter guys haven't been great but the Gasols have been doing their job. Pau (18.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 bpg, 63% FG) has been terrific for Team España (like he is every summer) and has been one of the best players in London. Not only has Pau been great offensively, he's been a major factor defensively as well. Pau's defense in FIBA play has always been underrated.
Marc (12 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 47.5% FG) has been solid for the most part, though his effort level has fluctuated. Marc has brought much better activity in the knockout phase, particularly on defense. Though Marc has been a bit sloppy in spots unnecessarily rushing shots and coughing up the ball (averaging 2.7 TOpg).
Serge Ibaka was supposed to take this team to another level this year but that's hard to do when he can't get consistent minutes. Understand there is a minutes crunch with the Gasols needing floor time, but why must Felipe Reyes play at this point? Reyes saw 10 minutes of action in the semifinal while Ibaka looked pissed sitting on the bench. We'll see if we get more Serge in this game as he was added to roster primarily to help neutralize Team USA's athletic advantage.
Spain's defense has helped cover up for poor offensive play. Holding opponents to 43% overall (33% on 3PA). Expect plenty of zone from Spain. Mixed in zone in their last two games and it was effective vs. both France and Russia.
But then again, those teams aren't great from the outside, while Team USA has been raining bombs. Team USA buried Argentina under a deluge of 3-pointers and they are currently shooting 44.5% behind the arc.
One area where Spain should be able to neutralize Team USA is on the glass. Not surprisingly, Team USA crushed the undersized Argentina squad on the the glass (+17 reb. margin), but Spain has been one of the top rebounding units in London.
Spain has the obvious size advantage and they will likely pound the post to see how Team USA reacts. Spain will try to get Tyson Chandler in early foul trouble and the Gasols have been doing a good job drawing fouls.
Like Russia, expect Team USA to dig down hard and force the Gasols to pass the ball out. They'll make the Spanish perimeter guys prove they can hit jumpers.
Spain hasn't gotten out in transition as much this summer as they normally do. They are generally a very dangerous team pushing the ball, but this might be the one game they need to be judicious with how often they go uptempo.
Spain has much more depth than Argentina which could allow then to give more fouls while Team USA is trying to get out in transition.
Another reason that Spain might not be up to challenging Team USA like they did in 2008 is the difference in coaching. In 2008, Spain had a master tactician, Aito Garcia Reneses pulling the strings while this time they have Sergio Scariolo, who leaves you non-plussed. Now if Spain had David Blatt running the show, Team USA would have to worry a bit more about a potential upset.
Still Spain has to win only one game, not four. Team USA could get into foul trouble, possibly Chandler and LeBron. Team USA's outside shots could be off the mark. They could misfire from the FT line. While Spain could go nuts from behind the arc. And you never know what to expect from FIBA refs.
But that's just it: Spain needs a perfect confluence of bad things to happen to Team USA to win. Even if Spain were at full strength, they would need everything to fall in place perfectly. Team USA's margin for error is just too large for even Spain to overcome.