London calling: Fair result, great basketball
Veteran sportswriter and Euroleague.net collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. Now, he is in London covering his seventh Summer Olympics and blogging about the men's basketball tournament for Euroleague.net.
Expectations were met, and as the British might say, they were met splendidly. The gold-medal game of the 2012 London Olympics was played by the United States and Spain, the best two teams in the tournament, and was a testament to how well basketball is played on both sides of the Atlantic. Spain was a more-than-worthy rival that forced the American stars to their limit. The final score of 107-100 proved to be the smallest difference in the 14 finals on which the USA has won the gold. All of the USA's previous opponents had fallen by between 11 and 32 points. Spain had to settle for its third silver medal, after 1984 and 2008, but each of them has shined a little brighter for demonstrating that this sport is consistently more global and more exciting.
The final in London was pretty similar to the one between the same opponents in Beijing 2008. Four years ago the score at the break was 69-61, an unbelievable 130 points. In the end, the Americans won by 118-107. In London, after the first 20 minutes, the score was 59-58 and the USA lead was only one point after 30 minutes, 83-82. The game was solved in the last 10 minutes, especially thanks to individual plays by Chris Paul, the long-range shooting of Kevin Durant and the virtuosity of LeBron James.
Taking a look at the stats, the better three-point shooting by the American team, 15 made to just 7 for Spain, was decisive. In other aspects of the game, Spain was as good, or even better. In assists, for instance, the final result was 22-13 for Spain. With the likes of Pau and Marc Gasol, plus Serge Ibaka, Spain had strength in the paint. Also, with Turkish Airlines Euroleague stars like Juan Carlos Navarro (19 of his 21 points in the first half) and Rudy Fernandez, Spain also had good long-range threats. With Jose Calderon and Sergio Llull there was no lack of direction and speed...
Spain played a great game. Spain was a great team in the final, but the United States were a little greater. I hope that in Rio de Janeiro, four years from now, we will be able to witness a similar game. I also hope that the Americans keep on bringing their best players. Otherwise, they will surely lose their domination and it will also hurt this tournament , which was enjoyed by anyone and everyone who loves basketball: fans, players and experts alike. The joy with which the USA players celebrated the gold medal confirms that they want to take part in the Olympic Games. As Paul afterward: "There's nothing that can be compared to participating in the Olympics." He also criticized the idea of limiting the age of the players to 23, saying: "If this rule was effective right now, it wouldn't be such an excellent experience as this one."
In the end, the medals were for the best three teams. Russia is definitely back to the world elite, confirming its rise with the bronze. Argentina, with its own golden generation, could not end with a medal but they had a solid performance with options to the last seconds. I think that, in general, the tournament was pretty good, but the final was something to remember.
Ettore Messina, CSKA Moscow head coach and Sky Italy TV commentator, said: "The final was one of the best games I have ever seen and remember, and the tournament very good. I think that the medals have been fair but I am a little sad for Manu Ginobili, who could not say farewell to his national team with another medal. Maybe two bronze medals should be awarded."
The only problem I have seen in London 2012 is that no new young talent took center stage. Some, like Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Alexey Shved (Russia) and Sergio Llull (Spain) are young, indeed, but well known already. I think that what was missing here were players like Ginobili at the Athens World Championship of 1998, Navarro in Sydney 2000, Luis Scola in the Indianapolis World Championship of 2002, Ricky Rubio in Beijing 2008... Super young players with a clear projection to become superstars.
In the end, we have to keep hope that this Olympic tournament has pushed basketball a little higher in Britain, most of all looking into the near future next May, when the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four will visit The 02 in London for the final event of the season, the Final Four. Most of Europe already knows the excitement that a Final Four generates, and now London has had a taste of the same in these truly satisfying Olympic Games for the sport of basketball. I can’t wait to return next May!
Vladimir Stankovic - London
Monday, August 13, 2012