Kevin Durant scored a game-high 30 points as the U.S. beat Spain 107-100 to successfully defend the men’s basketball gold medal at the London Olympics.
LeBron James of the National Basketball Association- champion Miami Heat added 19 points and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers had 17 for the U.S. Pau Gasol of the Lakers led Spain with 24 points.
James, 27, heads into the 2012-13 NBA season with a sweep of titles available to him, adding the Olympic gold medal to last season’s NBA championship, along with the Most Valuable Player awards for the regular season and the league finals against Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Hopefully I was able to represent my country the right way and do it with such a great team,” James told reporters at the North Greenwich Arena. “I played with one of the best teams, if not the best team, ever assembled.”
Spain led late in the third quarter and trailed by one point as the final period began. The U.S. outscored Spain 24-18 in the final 10 minutes to put the game away.
James scored five consecutive points in the final three minutes, including a 3-pointer against Marc Gasol that effectively took the game away from the Spaniards.
“It was a big shot, but there was a lot of big shots in our game, not just mine,” said James. “There was a bunch of big plays offensively and defensively.”
The U.S. hit 15 of 37 3-point shots, while Spain made just seven of 19.
The Americans have won 14 gold medals in the 17 Olympic tournaments they’ve entered and were undefeated in London. Today’s match reprised their 2008 victory when they beat Spain 118-107 to win the gold. Spain got within two points late in that game before the U.S. pulled away.
In the 2008 final Spain “really tested us more than any team,” said James. “We felt like that was going to happen again tonight. They’re a great team and they wanted redemption.”
Spain won five of the eight games they played in the tournament. The team struggled to manage injuries of key players throughout the London Games, coach Sergio Scariolo said on Aug. 10.
“We did what we could,” said Spain’s Sergio Fernandez, who had seven points and six assists in the final. “Even if we had a bad day, we were close to them until the end. After two months without playing well a single complete game, it was difficult to make it today. We did fine in the first half.”
The U.S. last lost at the games in the 2004 semifinals, when Argentina won 89-81, going on to claim gold. Basketball debuted at the 1936 Berlin games.
The only time the U.S. has lost in the Olympic final was in the disputed 1972 gold-medal game when the Soviet Union won 51-50.
Spain and the U.S. had met in two previous finals, with the U.S. winning in Beijing as well as in Los Angeles in 1984, when the Americans won 96-65.
Olympic basketball admitted professionals after the Seoul Games in 1988. Dave Gavitt, the head of USA Basketball at the time, said the move “put the puck on our stick” by allowing top players from the NBA to go for gold.
In 1992, the first games with the pros in place, the U.S. fielded the “Dream Team,’ featuring future Hall of Fame players such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
It crushed the field and easily won the gold medal in Barcelona, and repeated the performance with undefeated runs in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000.
With the Olympic spotlight increasing, other nations started producing NBA-caliber players, if not whole teams. At the Athens Games in 2004, the U.S. lost for the first time with NBA players in the lineup -- twice, in fact -- and took the bronze. Those losses led USA Basketball to change its selection process and put together a long-term national squad, not just an Olympic roster, to learn to play as a team under international rules.
The change worked. The ‘‘Redeem Team,’’ with James and Bryant leading the way, stormed through the tournament in Beijing four years ago and beat Spain in the gold-medal game.
James, part of the 2004 team, said the second consecutive gold medal was a mark that things had been put right, saying he and his teammates failed to realize the standard required to perform at an Olympics in the past.
‘‘There was definitely a different attitude toward the game and toward what it meant to really represent your country,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think we all understood that. I just think we were putting on the uniform and thought we could just come together in two, three weeks and go out there and win because we had great individuals.’’
To contact the reporters on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tariq Panja in London at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at firstname.lastname@example.org