Spain vs. USA. It has a familiar ring to it in men’s basketball. It’s a rematch of the gold medal games in Beijing and London – which saw both times the United States emerged the victor. The game features many of the same faces the 2012 fixture: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon.
But, this one is different. In this one, the coveted gold medal is not for grabs – only the chance to play for it hangs in the balance. In this one, neither team is at the height of its power. Some of the glitz is missing from those 2008 and 2012 matchups. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka – all gone.
The Gasol who could play in this game, Pau, may not. He’s hampered by a calf strain. Even if he does suit up, Gasol is nearing the end of his basketball life. He’s not the same person who led Spain to back-to-back Olympic title games.
Still, this game has the chance to rival the 2008 gold medal game in terms of competitiveness. Both teams have struggled during the tournament. Spain lost its first two matches in Rio; the U.S. struggled in the final games of the preliminary round. Both teams, however, looked formidable as ever in their commanding quarterfinal wins.
While the United States hold’s an edge in star power and athleticism, Spain has continuity and experience on its side.
Spain has five holdovers from the 2004 Olympics (Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro), six holdovers from 2008 (Calderon, Fernandez, Gasol, Navarro and Ricky Rubio), and eight from 2012 (Calderon, Fernandez, Gasol, Navarro, Sergio Llull, Victor Claver and Sergio Rodriguez).
Just Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony have previous Olympic experience on the U.S. side. The majority of the Americans first played on the same team just over a month ago.
The problems that plague the U.S. are an advantage for Spain, and vice versa. The U.S. has struggled to play fluidly on offense; they’ve been accused of playing “hero ball.” Spain knows exactly where each player on the floor is supposed to be and they share the ball without hesitation.
The two teams exist as contrasts of one another.
Spain has an aging roster. The oldest U.S. player is 32. Spain lacks athleticism. DeMar DeRozan can do this.
Spain knows what works; they’ve been here before. USA is still gelling, still neophytes to the Olympic stage.
They both possess distinct flaws, but remain among the powers on the Olympic basketball stage. For all their differences, both teams understand what is at stake. Both squads crave an opportunity to play for a gold medal.