PREGAME: After two weeks of early morning games, we get a Team Redeem night game, an after midnight special – and, yes, the time is correct. TMJ4 will broadcast the USA vs. Spain gold medal game at 1:30am CST.
This will be the first rematch in these Olympics for both teams, which should make things interesting. No one should expect a replay of the first game last Saturday in group play, when 2006 world champion Spain played Washington Generals to Team USA’s Harlem Globetrotters, turning the ball over 28 times in a 37-point Redeem Team romp.
The Aug. 16 game was also perhaps the only Olympic game in which Team USA shot well from 3-point range, Carmelo Anthony and Tayshaun Prince combining for 7-10. The rest of the team shot 5-15, which isn’t going to stop Spain from packing defenders in the paint and daring Team Redeem to prove it can hit jumpshots.
Team USA hasn’t spoken well for the state of shooting in the NBA. The 3-pointer in international play is just 20′ 9″ out from the hole, a good 2-and-a-half feet closer than the NBA 3-pointer. The top two NBA outside shooters in these Olympics, as ranked by 82games.com, are not on the USA team. They are Spain’s Jose “I made T.J. Ford expendable” Calderon of the Raptors and Mavs all-pro Dirk Nowitzki of Germany. Kobe, Carmelo, Lebron and even Michael Redd, Team Redeem’s alleged shooter, are nowhere near the top in NBA shooting.
Unfortunately, that’s the way the league is these days; and the Redeem Team happens to be a very good reflection of today’s NBA. Kobe, Lebron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh — this is their era, though one might get an argument from Boston. Eventually an international team would make Team USA pay for its poor shooting, but I’m not expecting the payday to come tonight. (ESPN’s Chris Sheridan seems concerned but this Spain team isn’t the one.)
Fortunately, Team Redeem also reflects the best NBA qualities — the tough defense and mean, hungry competitive spirit that one finds on the NBA’s top teams. No, there are no Celtics on this team, but if you watched the NBA Finals or the Cavs-Celtics series, you might wonder whether it’s humanly possible for a Pau Gasol-led team to beat a hungry Lebron James team. And this Lebron team has Kobe Bryant on it. (Funny, the end-of-week media angle was to annoint a team leader. NBC says it’s Lebron; other media tabs Kobe; the coach and ESPN’s Chris Sheridan says Jason Kidd. And so it goes.)
The Team USA defense has been the story of the Olympic basketball tournament, and there’s no reason to expect the D to let up in the gold medal game. I’m expecting the opposite — one of the most astonishing and relentless defensive performances in Olympic history. Spain should be ready to play, especially after the drubbing they took in the teams’ first meeting, but it shouldn’t matter.
Unfortunately, the Spanish will be playing without their point guard, Calderon, who’s out with a “slightly torn abductor muscle” which is somewhere in the thigh-to-groin area of the legs. (I wonder how the Australian team would have handled this injury.) Calderone’s absence should mean plenty of playing time for 17-year-old Ricky Rubio, a kid who makes NBA scouts drool.
In addition to Pau Gasol (Kobe’s talented-but-soft Laker teammate), brother Marc Gasol (traded to the Grizzlies for Pau last season) is a bruiser who likes to mix it up. Another guy to watch is burly big forward Felipe Reyes, Spain’s leading scorer and best player in the first USA game. (Note to John Hammond – Real Madrid’s Reyes has a nice shooting touch and is precisely the type of 6′ 9″ forward the Bucks could use, immediamente). Guard-forward Rudy Fernandez, who had 18 in the semifinals against Lithuania, is another Spanish player to watch, but Fernandez is the type of international player who’s out of his league against the likes of Kobe, Lebron and D-Wade — which is really the main problem international teams have had with Team Redeem.
So if Spain sounds slim going up against team USA, that’s because it is. Juan Navarro, who played in Memphis last season, isn’t playing well. Calderon is out. The front court is good, but the Argentina big men were good, too, as was Australia in the quarterfinals. Kobe and Lebron are hungry for gold. They may not shoot well enough to utterly dominate, but they do everything else so well that it shouldn’t — and doesn’t — matter.
How they got there: The semifinals featured the four teams clearly a cut above the rest of the Olympic pack but the games left a lot to be desired. After a very quiet and noncontroversial 10 tournament days, the officials made themselves big factors, and that’s never good.
USA 101, Argentina 81 This game was a bit closer than the final score indicated, as Team Redeem dropped its intensity after Manu Ginobili sprained his left ankle early in the game. As Bill Walton described it in his postgame analysis: When Ginobili went down “the energy was just sucked out of the atmosphere.” Down 21, the Bulls Andres Nocioni and the Rockets Luis Scola pulled Argentina within six just before half when the officials intervened to start the Carmelo Anthony free throw parade. Carmelo shot 3-14 from the floor but 13-13 from the line for 21 pts. That ain’t earnin’ it. Scola finished with 28 pts, 12 rebs.
Chris Sheridan, the saving grace of ESPN basketball writing, has an excellent recap in his column. Carmelo very nearly lost his cool due to Argentinian rough stuff and has been talking about what “a war” the gold medal game will be, etc. etc. Somebody get ‘Melo a beer and a spliff before he starts something; let’s hope Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd get some minutes while he’s coolin’ his Nikes on the bench.
Michael Redd played three minutes at the end of the first half and two garbage mins at the end of the game. Redd didn’t shoot or score, but grabbed three rebounds. Wouldn’t it be nice if Redd hit a few threes in the gold medal game? That’s all it would take to erase memories of his poor shooting through seven Olympic games. (10-31 from the floor; 5-18 on threes).
Olympics stat page for all teams.
Spain 91, Lithuania 86 Lithuania led 66-62 going into the 4th quarter but a huge Spain advantage from the foul line put Gasol and company over the top. Being ever so curious and not having watched the game, I went to the fourth quarter play-by-play to find out who got hot and won the game for Spain. Pau Gasol and Felipe Reyes (remember that name John Hammond) scored 2 quick hoops apiece to get it started, then Rudy Fernandez hit a two and three. 76-74 Spain. From there on in, the final six mins of the game, Spain didn’t score a hoop and shot 17 free throws.
The fourth quarter totals – two buckets apiece for Gasol, Reyes and Fernandez, and 16-18 from the line. That’s not basketball, folks. In the process, Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza of Lithuania was tossed for two unsportsmanlike fouls. Something tells me Lithuania should be playing for gold against the U.S., not the Jose Calderon-less Spanish team.