PAUL AND TEAM USA ARE GOLDEN
Chris Paul and Team USA could finally celebrate.
As the buzzer sounded on their 107-100 victory over Spain in Sunday’s championship game at the Summer Games, the team came together in a circle and cut loose for a few seconds.
It was the second consecutive gold medal for the United States (8-0) and Paul, who also became the first player to win gold as a member of the Clippers.
“This is the most fun time of my life; ‘08 was all good and well but there was something about our 2012 team that was just special,” Paul said. “I hate that this was our last game playing together. It’s something that we’ll never forget.”
Paul had 11 points, two assists, and three steals, leaving London with a tournament-high 20 steals in eight games (2.5 per game). Kevin Durant scored 30 points with nine rebounds, while Lebron James had 17 points and seven rebounds.
Led by Pau Gasol, who finished with 24 points, Spain captured a brief three-point lead in the third quarter. But after sinking seven of their first 10 3-pointers, the veteran Spanish group went cold from distance and Team USA took over a one-point game with a fourth-quarter outburst that included eight points from Paul.
The point guard scored five in a row in the opening minutes of the period, the first on a step-back 3-pointer from straightaway where he bumped legs with his defender and hit the floor. After Felipe Reyes missed on the other end, Paul turned down a pick, used a hesitation dribble to freeze his man, and darted to the rim for a layup. The consecutive baskets gave the United States a 90-84 lead with 8:24 to go.
While Spain hung around deep into the fourth, Team USA kept them at bay thanks to a number of clutch shots from its All-Star cast.
Durant nailed a three from the left wing off a whip-around pass from Paul. Kobe Bryant scored on put-back off an offensive rebound. James threw down a right-handed dunk and a fade-away 3-pointer. And Paul made a dazzling layup, slicing through Spain’s defense, and flipping the ball in with his back to the rim.
“When you have a group of guys that is use to making plays like we have on this team you never know who is going to make those plays,” Carmelo Anthony said. “There were times where Chris Paul stepped up big for us; LeBron stepped up; KD [Durant] was outstanding from the 3-point line.”
Paul talked about his play that helped put the game away for the United States with 53 seconds left. “[The] shot clock was running down and I saw Kobe up top and I had Pau [Gasol] on me – he actually flicked the ball a couple of times,” Paul said. “I don’t know, I think he probably thought I was going to do a step-out jump shot, which was my plan originally, but as I saw a lane open up somehow I got in there and made a lucky shot.”
Lucky or not, the shot had Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski leaping up and down on the sideline. It was an unbridled and uncharacteristic show of emotion from the iconic coach, who said Sunday would be his final game manning the sideline for the U.S. National Team.
“I was really, really happy, unbelievably happy,” Krzyzewski said. “This was a great game. It wasn’t a good game it was a great game.”
James spoke afterwards about some of the veteran players’ relationship with Krzyzewski.
“I think between me, Coach K, CP [Paul] and Melo [Anthony] we’ve been through it all,” the three-time MVP said. “We were part of the whole rebuilding of the USA team trying to back to where it was before.
“We were able to win gold in ‘08 and that was a big step for us and four years later, being put in this position once again, we kind of all share the same traits.”
Team USA was aided by those traits of competitiveness and togetherness when they defeated Spain in the 2008 final in Beijing. Four years later, they did it again, perhaps finishing off the rebuilding project.