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Come reign and shine, U.S., Bryant close it out

LONDON 2012

August 13, 2012|Mike Bresnahan
  • Kevin Durant and LeBron James embrace after the U.S. men's basketball team wins its gold medal match against Spain.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James embrace after the U.S. men's basketball… (Friso Gentsch / EPA )

LONDON — Chris Paul grabbed the game ball and handed it off quickly to a Team USA attendant for safekeeping.

Then the U.S. players jumped up and down in a huddle near midcourt as "Born in the USA" played on the North Greenwich Arena speakers. Some of them grabbed flags and jogged around with them over their heads.

It could mean only one thing.

The U.S. had defeated Spain, 107-100, in the Olympic gold-medal game Sunday.

Kevin Durant scored 30 points, LeBron James had 19 and the U.S. capably extended a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

If this was the end of the "Dream Team" concept, it was fitting for the U.S., though the sport's international governing body reportedly now is not considering an age limit of 23-and-under for the 2016 Olympics.

Kobe Bryant has five championship rings and two gold medals, this one "right there up at the top," he said of his career highlights.

"It was a journey for us. It was just tough. It's a huge accomplishment."

It is also the last Olympic stop for Bryant, who turns 34 this month.

"I'm definitely not playing" in 2016, he said after scoring 17 points against Spain. "We have a lot of talented players coming up and hopefully we'll continue to grow our program, continue to mentor the young fellows coming up . . . and continue to carry on the tradition."

The U.S. won its second straight gold and improved to 13-1 in gold-medal games, its lone misstep the controversial 1972 final against the Soviet Union. The U.S. lost to Argentina in the semifinals at Athens in 2004.

Despite generally lopsided scores the last two weeks, the U.S. found some memorable moments during its 8-0 run. It set an Olympic record of 156 points against Nigeria but then struggled to beat Lithuania by only five, giving hope to the rest of the medal contenders.

There was also a fiery preliminary game against Argentina, when Carmelo Anthony was punched below the belt by a backup point guard.

The U.S. had defeated its previous seven opponents by an average of 35.7 points while Spain messed around in preliminary play, barely beating a lousy Britain team, losing to Russia and then falling to Brazil in a meaningless game.

Spain came to play Sunday, though, trailing only 59-58 at halftime after shooting guard Juan-Carlos Navarro continually burned the U.S. with 19 first-half points.

Then Pau Gasol went to work in the third quarter as Spain briefly took a three-point lead. He had 15 points in the third quarter alone, and Spain entered the fourth looking at an 83-82 deficit.

Gasol cooled from there, though, and finished with 24 points. Spain simply couldn't match the U.S. offense.

James scored on a dunk and then hit a three-pointer as the shot clock dwindled, giving the U.S. a 102-93 lead with 1:59 to play. Paul, the Clippers point guard, added a twisting, driving layup for a 104-93 lead.

"We let them get away in the fourth," Gasol said.

If the U.S. had a weak spot, it was a lack of height with so many big men left off the team because of injury: Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin.

They weren't missed when it mattered.

"Athleticism, quickness and speed usually beats size," said USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, who then shrugged off the concept of an age limit in future Olympics.

"My plan is, until told otherwise, it's business as usual," he said.

Navarro finished with 21 points for Spain, which also lost to the U.S. in the 2008 final at Beijing. Marc Gasol had 17 points despite persistent foul trouble.

When it was over, Bryant found Pau Gasol and hugged his Lakers teammate.

"It was a tough moment for me," Gasol said. "He came all the way to our bench. It was a great gesture from him."

Said Bryant: "I just told him I loved him and he did a fantastic job. He played his heart out. I told him to get some rest because we've got a long [season] coming up.

"He said he would. He said he's going to be ready."

In the bronze-medal game, Alexey Shved had 25 points, Andrei Kirilenko 20 as Russia beat Argentina, 81-77.

Manu Ginobili scored 21 for Argentina.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Basketball

Men's

G The United States beat Spain, 107-100, in the gold-medal game

S Spain lost to the United States

B Russia beat Argentina, 81-77, in the bronze-medal game

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