Posted Oct 23 2010 10:38AM - Updated Oct 25 2010 2:06PM
A Game 7 of The Finals is thought of as the ultimate event in basketball. It's 48 minutes of action with the entire NBA season on the line. And while Game 7 of the 2010 Finals was one of the ugliest games of the season, it certainly had plenty of drama.
For the Boston Celtics, going home empty-handed after coming just a couple of possessions short of their 18th championship made for a difficult cross-country plane ride and a frustrating summer.
Four months later though, the Celtics are ready to make another run at a championship. With such a short offseason in the NBA, the opportunity for a team to redeem itself for a season that fell short comes quickly.
But imagine if the Celtics had to wait another four years before they got the chance to compete for another title...
Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski remade the USA Basketball program in 2005. Knowing that they had to change the way Team USA was put together for international competition, they got three-year commitments from several of the best players in the NBA, with the objective of winning Olympic gold in 2008 and making it clear once again that the United States was the best basketball nation in the world.
The U.S. came up two games short at the 2006 World Championship, but lessons were learned and in 2008, it brought to Beijing a team with more talent, more experience, more continuity, and a better knowledge of international competition.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh. The roster was stacked, easily the best assemblage of talent since the Dream Team was put together 16 years earlier.
And appropriately, the Redeem Team won its first seven games in Beijing by an average of 30 points. Along the way, they beat medal contenders Greece and Spain by 23 and 37 points respectively.
With their speed and athleticism, Team USA was a force defensively, allowing their opponents to shoot just 39 percent from the field and score only 88.9 points per 100 possessions through those first seven games. The defense fueled the team's fast break, which provided plenty of highlights on the way to the gold medal game, a rematch with Spain.
There was certainly some gamesmanship by the Spaniards in the preliminary round, but with Team USA looking like as much a juggernaut as the '92 team was, and Jose Calderon injured, the gold medal game was looking like nothing more than a coronation for the Americans.
But then Bryant and James each picked up two quick fouls and Spain jumped out to an early lead. Wade put the U.S. on his back in the second quarter, sparking an incredible run where the Americans scored 21 points in the final 4:15 of the half. They went up by as many as 13 points in the third, but Spain kept hanging around.
That U.S. defense that had so dominated the first seven games just couldn't stop the Spanish offense, which scored 107 points on just 84 possessions. Every time the Americans started to pull away, Spain would get a big bucket from Pau Gasol or Rudy Fernandez.
And when Fernandez hit a transition three from the left wing with just over eight minutes to go in the game, Team USA's lead was down to just two.
Krzyzewski called a timeout. It was gut-check time. Three years of commitment, three years of hard work, and three years of traveling around the world would be all for naught if Team USA couldn't finish this game off.
James and Wade had clearly been Team USA's best players through 7 ¾ games. Between them, they averaged 31.5 points on 63 percent shooting over the course of the tournament. But with the game on the line, it was Bryant who stepped forward.
The reigning MVP had been inconsistent offensively since arriving in Beijing. At times during the tournament, he forced shots, trying to find his rhythm. He shot 5-for-14 in the semifinals and was 3-for-8 in the final up until that point.
But none of that mattered. No matter how poorly he's been shooting, Bryant wants the ball when the game is on the line. And even with all the star power on that team, he knew that he had to be the closer.
Out of the timeout, he hit a contested runner in the lane off his wrong foot. He followed that up with a pair of assists and a three. But Spain would not go down, Fernandez put Howard on a poster, and the U.S. lead was just five points with 3:20 to go.
That's when Bryant came through with the biggest shot of the game. Spain was in a zone and Bryant caught a pass on the left wing. He waited for Fernandez to close out, rose up, took the contact and drained a three. Fernandez had fouled out. Spain kept it close until the two-minute mark, but Wade hit another dagger three to put them away.
In those final eight minutes, with the gold medal on the line, Bryant had 13 of his 20 points and two of his six assists. Big game. Big moment. Big shots.
The U.S. had dominated through its first seven games, but that gold medal did not come easy. It was one game with everything on the line. It had the best players in the world playing for their country and sacrificing their individual talents for the good of the team.
The execution was near perfect; two great teams at the top of their game. As a basketball fan, you couldn't ask for anything more.
It was three years in the making, but it came down to eight minutes of basketball.
That's why USA 118, Spain 107 is the best game I ever witnessed.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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