|One more for the gold. (Getty Images)|
Back again. Spain meets the U.S. in the gold medal game for a second consecutive Olympics. With multiple NBA All-Stars and a known style that lights up the scoreboard, anticipation is high. This is the matchup that everyone anticipated and now it's set to go down with the gold medal on the line.
Team USA has not only passed every test but done so comfortably in every instance. For a team that had so many questions with injuries, they've responded emphatically. Now they face a team that comes with the most hype of any non-American team, yet when you start to look at the resume?
It's not great.
How did they get here?
They trounced China to open group play, then had a comfortable 12-point win over a very good Australia team. It looked very much like the same dominant run we expected from Spain.
Then? The wheels came apart as much as they could without falling off completely.
They escaped Great Britain by one, thanks to a series of disastrous foul decisions for Great Britain and an inability to foul Jose Calderon with three seconds less by the host country.
OK, no problem, everyone has an off game, even if a one-point win over Great Britain is as off as you can imagine without losing.
Then they lost to Russia.
They stumbled into the medal round, and managed to overcome France who outplayed them for most of the game thanks to a late defensive stand and a quick burst of offense. They came out and were down early by double-digits to Russia. Again, they found just enough offense to get by.
So that's the story of Spain in these Olympics: do just enough while looking about as bad as you can and still win.
Do they have a history of winning?
When we look at the storied history of Spanish Olympic basketball, well. OK, they've been competing in basketball since 1960. In that time, they've won two two medals, once in 1984, where they won silver, and of course the silver in 2008.
So you could say that they're really not the power they're made out to be, historically. But this team is loaded with the best basketball players in the sport's history, with multiple NBA All-Stars. They have been a power in international basketball the last few years, but they're not historically a powerhouse.
Who are their best players?
The big guys down low. Pau Gasol and his brother Marc are the focal point of the offense and anchor the defense. This will be the largest force Team USA will have faced inside. Kevin Love has come on strong after a rough start to exhibition play, and he and Tyson Chandler have to make sure that Spain doesn't control the glass.
Juan Carlos Navarro, a one-time Memphis Grizzly is the most dangerous player on the perimeter. He's a former Euroleague MVP and he can absolutely blister a defense if he gets hot. Former NBA player Rudy Fernandez brings perimeter shooting and transition athleticism. And Serge Ibaka blocks shots. Off perimeter penetration, Ibaka has feasted on clean-up dunks. The rotations for Team USA have to be sharp.
Jose Calderon is their starting point guard and with his shooting and quickness, he gives teams fits. He's a much better international player than NBA player, and he's a pretty good NBA player.
What do the match-ups look like?
The gold medal match will be the toughest of Team USA's Olympic games. Team USA just doesn't have the size down low to match up with both Gasols, and Pau's ability to stretch the floor will cause problems. With Navarro and Calderon's speed and shooting, the guards could wreak some havoc.
Spain will try and draw defenders with perimeter penetration, then drop it off to a Gasol or Ibaka for a finish, creating easy looks. They aren't shy on the perimeter in the slightest and if they get hot, they can cook, something that gives USA fits.
If we're looking at the pieces and not the whole, this is a major challenge for Team USA.
Does Spain have a chance against the United States?
The problem is that the wholes have not been greater than the sum of their parts for Spain. Instead, the sum has been underwhelming, unimpressive, and quite frankly, not very good. They struggled in group play, and were it not for a miracle run of defense and a ridiculous shooting stretch against Russia, Spain would not have made the gold medal game.
They're there, and they're dangerous. But in a surprise twist, Team USA honestly plays better together. They work to create better shots, they share the ball better, they understand where one another is better.
It doesn't hurt that they're still much more talented, despite a near all-NBA starting lineup for Spain.
Spain can bring their best game, and keep this close. They can pressue Team USA and ride a wave of emotion to the very edge of the top of the podium. And then Team USA will close the door, because they not only have the more talented team, the stronger, faster, more athletic team, but they have a better team, if the play we've seen throughout this tournament is any indication.
There's always an element of fear in a one-off elimination game. But no one's caught the U.S. napping yet, and it's hard to see that in Coach K's last game, with the medal on the line, that Team USA will allow itself to be embarrassed.