With Spain’s men’s basketball being ranked as the second best in the world, the matchup against Team USA was a highly anticipated game. Team USA and Spain met in an exhibition game in Las Vegas prior to their departure for the Tokyo Olympics. USA won that contest 83-76, but the team was missing Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Devin Booker due to their NBA Finals battle. Things were a bit different in tonight’s matchup with Team USA making a statement and getting the win 95-81.
Firstly, here’s a quick rundown at Spain’s talented roster:
Ricky Rubio (Current: Cleveland Cavaliers)
Rudy Fernandez (Former: Portland Trail Blazers)
Victor Claver (Former: Blazers)
Marc Gasol (Current: Los Angeles Lakers)
Usman Garuba (Current: Houston Rockets, 23rd pick in 2021 Draft)
Alex Abrines (Former: Oklahoma City Thunder)
Willy Hernangomez (Current: New Orleans Pelicans)
Pau Gasol (Former: Milwaukee Bucks, Blazers 2019, but waived)
Sergio Llull (Supposed to be on the Rockets in 2015)
Sergio Rodriguez (Former: Philadelphia 76ers, Blazers, 2006-2009)
Juan Hernangomez (Current: Minnesota Timberwolves)
They also normally have Serge Ibaka (Los Angeles Clippers) who is recovering from an injury this past season. As you can see, there is plenty of high-level talent on this roster, which has slotted them to be the biggest threat to Team USA. Let’s get into this exciting matchup.
This was a game of runs for both sides seesawing back and forth. It was another rough start for Team USA after commanding a 17-10 lead, Spain crawled back on an 11-2 run to end the score taking a 21-19 lead. Ricky Rubio put on a show in the first quarter, leading all scorers with 13 points. Spain took control, leading 39-29. This most pivotal part of the half was with a little over a minute left. With three seconds left on the shot clock, Kevin Durant hit a contested three followed up by a dunk, closing a 7-point deficit to only two points. Zach LaVine dunked in the closing seconds. Team USA orchestrated a 14-4 blitz and played with aggression to end the first half and tie the game 43-43.
Rubio was held scoreless in the second quarter. Unfortunately, Team USA couldn’t throw a rock in an ocean and finished the half converting on an abysmal 4-of-18 threes. Guys were settling too much and not putting enough pressure on Spain’s heels and a lack of defensive effort put them in a hole.
And this is where our expectations of Team USA finally came to fruition. To start off the second half, they came out with a bang to make a statement. Durant hit three consecutive threes and the squad went on a 22-6 run to open the third quarter establishing a 65-49 lead, which looked like it would ultimately be a blowout. Rubio struck again and Spain would not go away. He had a 14-point third quarter with the entire squad going on a 14-4 run to end the third period. Then, Team USA was only up by six, 69-63.
After owning just a five-point lead, a pair of threes by Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum pushed it back up to a 77-66 lead, and it only went up from there. The team went on to shoot well from the field for the game at 48% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc. Defense protected the three-point line well, holding the opposition to 30.4% from three. Spain shot 38% and 36% from beyond the arc against Argentina and Slovenia, respectively. Team USA defeated Spain 95-81. Several key players from USA contributed:
Holiday - 12 points, five assists
Lillard - 12 points four rebounds, four assists
Booker - Nine points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals
Tatum - 13 points
Durant - 29 points, four assists, three steals, one block
Closing in on History
Durant’s 29 points was a performance for the ages where he was 10-of-17 from the field, 4-of-7 from three, and 5-of-5 from the stripe. Being a two-time Gold Medalist, he established himself as the leading scorer with total points, free throws made, and 3-pointers made. He only needs eight more three-point attempts to pass Carmelo Anthony in the category. As of now, he is 70-of-132 from three for his Olympic career, which is an astounding 53%. This was a much-needed performance to counter Spain’s talent roster and Rubio’s Jordan-esque performance.
Conclusion: Be the Aggressor
This victory puts Team USA at 12-0 all-time vs. Spain in the Olympics. It knows what it’s capable of. The abysmal first half performance was taken personally and the squad ramped up its defensive intensity and applying more aggression offensively. In the first half, the team settled for an abundance of threes that they were not making and made adjustments. Playing tenacious defense, getting stops, and outrunning opponents from the beginning will create bigger gaps, meaning they won’t have to claw back from deficits. There’s no need to settle; be the aggressor and attack them early, Team USA’s confidence is building and the team cannot be beaten when playing in that fashion. Hopefully, this momentum will be carried on against a relentless Australian team as they’ve advanced to the semifinals. Tune in to this game on Wednesday, August 4, at 9:15pm PST on PeacockTV or NBCOlympics.com.