Olympic glory. Team USA is going for it. Spain is going for it. And I'm going for it. The game is at the kind of hour (if I'm reading that schedule correctly, it starts at 2:30 a.m. ET) that makes you think Olympic organizers just don't care if America ever sees another live basketball game. But that won't stop me. I will not be recording the game and watching it at a human hour. Oh no. I'll be blogging the game live.
Here's some background on the Spanish team. I think everyone thinks that the U.S. is most likely to win. But I don't think anyone should expect Spain to be intimidated. These players have won this kind of game before. There's a chance this'll be an Olympic classic.
OK, who feels like some basketball? Getting close to show time.
Chris Sheridan has e-mailed from Beijing to let me knew that the referees are: Lithuania's Romualdas Brazauskas, Argentina's Pablo Estevez, and Finland's Carl Jungebrand. This game's commissioner -- what does that mean? (I have a lot to learn about the international game) -- is Canadian Fred Horgan. If I use any of their names tonight, that's a sure sign there has been a very bad call in a close game. (John Hollinger also e-mailed. He's having trouble with both his cable and the online video. So if anybody wants to invite him over to their house to watch, he'd really appreciate that.)
Jose Calderon is not on the floor, and LeBron James is dialed in from downtown. Two bad signs in the early going for Spain. On the other hand, there's plenty for Spain to like in the feisty opening minutes. They have forced some early turnovers, and are holding a one-point lead.
Without Calderon, there is even more weight on Pau Gasol, and the U.S. is not letting him take over. He's doubled even beyond the free throw line. He'll have to make the U.S. pay for that by passing for layups.
Of course, the upside of Calderon's absence is that we viewers are going to get to see a whole bunch of Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez. The young guards, who have played together in Spain, have both been exciting in the early going -- helping Spain to a four-point lead. You wonder if Spain can maintain this energy level on defense. So far they're all over the place.
Dwyane freaking Wade with a big-time steal and dunk. He is leading everyone in scoring, Chris Bosh is in looking like a big man who was built for this game's intense pace, and the U.S. is enjoying the view with a slender lead.
Kobe Bryant took an ill-advised 3, too early in the shot clock as the quarter was nearing its close. Of course he nailed it. Which is great, three points and all, but you hate to encourage his inner gunner.
Then Wade almost had the play of the game. Spain has six or seven seconds to get the first quarter's final shot. Wade decided from 15 yards away to just go steal that ball, and swooped in and swiped it at full speed. Bingo. He's all alone on his way to a buzzer-beating dunk. The hard work is done. All we need is the finish and ... he fumbles it out of bounds with less than a second left. Bummer. The people need their dunks!
Just like to point out that in Spain it's a very civilized 9 a.m. right now. This would be nice over breakfast instead of ... whatever you eat at 3 a.m. (Stale nachos are, I think, the meal of this hour.) So, Spain gets the preferable TV schedule, but here in the U.S. we get a 12-point lead. When the U.S. went up a dozen in qualifying, Spain seemed to wilt. And now the mighty U.S. turnover machine is getting cranked up. Ever since the U.S. subs came in -- Bosh and Wade, mainly -- it has been a different story.
The U.S. starters came back in, and Spain touched off a little run. Coach K wisely brings Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade back.
Wade has 13 points on four shots so far, to go with two steals. That's all in eight minutes. Put that in your "per 48" stats machine, and you'll find ... a monster game. (He just got another steal and dunk, too. ... Then he nailed a 3, and assisted on a LeBron 3. If there's an MVP of the first half, it's Dwyane Wade by a country mile.) Not to mention, with Wade on the floor, the U.S. has vastly outscored Spain. I suspect when he's on the bench, Spain has outscored the U.S.
Team USA is 8-for-11 from downtown. Kiss of death for Spain. On the other hand, the fact that Spain is still hanging around despite that ... tells you how well both teams are playing. This is a good game.
Before the game, I got a mini-prediction from former ESPN colleague, and current Dallas head coach, Rick Carlisle. He said it would be "close for a while, then the US will pull away. USA will be ready for zone and will hit 3's and hurt them with second shots." Can not argue with the quality of that prediction.
Spain is closing the half very well. Things tightening up. The tension will persist in the second half.
At halftime, it's an eight-point game.
ESPN's Chris Palmer e-mails: "Is it even possible to put into context what it's like to be a 17-year-old kid playing head up against the likes of Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul & Co. as Spain's Ricky Rubio is doing against the US in the gold medal game? Despite a couple of Paul forays into the trees and D-Wade's open floor reverse throwdown, the highlight of the game so far has been Tricky Ricky's behind the back dribble at the top of the key (past Jason Kidd) before splitting Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony to drop in a cottony finger roll. My mind is officially boggled and it's only the first quarter. Seriously, what's going through that kid's mind being on a stage of this magnitude without showing so much as a hint of a deer-in-the headlights look? Did I mention he's 17? Would have loved to have seen him play high school or college ball in America."
Another big storyline: The U.S. is on pace to have a 138-point game. And it's a 40-minute game. This is officially an unbelievably fun game to watch.
Chris Sheridan calls from Beijing, loving this game. He points out that Spain closed the quarter well with Pau Gasol benched after an ineffective stretch. Sheridan is crazy for Rudy Fernandez, and his boldness. But most importantly, he points out the foul situation. Rudy Fernandez, Felipe Reyes and Raul Lopez each have three. Two more and they foul out. Ricky Rubio, Berni Rodriguez and Marc Gasol have two apiece. This could be desperate times for Spain's injury-depleted backcourt in the second half.
Spain is outrebounding the U.S. 14-12.
Dwyane Wade halftime statline update: 21 points on nine shots, with four steals in 13 minutes. (This tournament has been good for him, huh? From forgotten man to superhero. And how he plays defense!) He's credited with one assist, but Sheridan remembers at least three, and says the stats crew has been stingy with assists all tournament long.
Rudy just missed a 3 that would have cut the lead to three. Now it's eight. That would have been huge.
Chad Ford at halftime: "I'm in the Middle East working on a PeacePlayers project. We are all sitting around the TV watching the game live on DubaiSports. Every time Dwyane Wade makes a three the announcer yells 'Allaaaaaah!' similar to the way soccer announcers yell 'Gooooooal' when someone makes a goal. I've always liked Ricky Rubio and thought he'd be a likely top five pick, but his play in this tournament has convinced me to move him up to the No. 1 spot in the draft. He has such amazing poise for someone his age. He needs to improve his jump shot and get stronger ... but he looks really special."
Halfway through the third it's a four-point game. Wow. Wow. This is one exciting game. It is a quarter to four in the morning and I could not be less tired.
Chris Palmer: "Who is D Wade, the Cleaner? The daring steals, the high flying dunks, the reckless abandon. I feel like I'm watching games 5 and 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals. It certainly has been refreshing to see Wade look like his former self. Wade's
strength, fluidity, speed and grace is always something to see. Especially when he plays in fast motion using the entire court as he did in the first half against Spain. So much for the outside shooting of Michael Redd. Wade is in style in Beijing right now."
Cereal, by the way. That's what you eat at this hour. Better than stale nachos.
Let's be super clear. This is anybody's game. We're in the third quarter still -- lead hovering from four to six or seven -- and already it feels like nearly every play is a turning point.
Juan Carlos Navarro: Night of the Runner. He's shooting a ton of runners. Too exciting to look away, but the U.S. has built a little lead. Big stops. Some free throws. A Melo three. It's a nine-point game.
Rudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes both have four fouls. For the U.S., only Deron Williams has three.
With about nine minutes left. Spain down 91-84, Rudy checks back in. And on this first play back, he initiates a stunning alley-oop. Next play after that, he nails a 3, and it's a two-point game.
When this is over, one team will have silver. Let no one criticize that team. The story is both teams playing beautifully.
Oh boy, did Carlos Jimenez ever get Wade to bite on that fake. Wade has had at least two really hard crashes. He needs to find a way to have fewer of those.
Spain misses some shots. The U.S. beasts its way back to a double-digit lead. Then Rudy SLAMS it home as he is fouled, and the Spanish players on the bench have to warned to stay off the floor.
Palmer: "I learned something tonight. Rudy Fernandez can shoot. And dunk on Dwight Howard. Congratulations Coach MacMillian."
Least poised American: Dwight Howard. Been cranky all night. Enter Chris Bosh to play the closing minutes.
U.S. lead down to five. 3:25 left.
Kobe Bryant makes the best play a human can make. A four-point play, on which he fouls out Rudy Fernandez. If he had missed, I would have called that an ill-advised shot, but he didn't, not at all. Dagger.
Both teams trade HUGE threes, and then after Wade's last one, Wade goes to great lengths not to let himself just explode in un-Team USA celebration. Well held. And then Pau Gasol goes to the timeout with that pouty body language he gets sometimes. He needs to inspire right now.
Jimenez misses a 3. Kobe on a tear. U.S. up eight and counting in the final minute. Suddenly Spain can't score, and needs miracles.
This U.S. team looks very happy, and I'm thrilled they got to win it like this -- in a great game. Kobe Bryant gives Pau Gasol one of the great sports hugs of the ages. Looks like Coach Krzyzewski will not be covered in sports drink, though.
The U.S. has a better circle-up team chant at the end than Spain.
This game had so many major storylines. The redemption of USA basketball. Dwyane Wade's perfect start to the game (he finished with 27). Kobe Bryant's end-game heroics. Rudy Fernandez's major-league 22 tough points on 13 shots. Ricky Rubio -- at 17 -- looking at home on the court with All-Stars in the place of injured Jose Calderon. Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro hitting big shots. Spain coming close to defending their World Championship.
You know what? This could be the biggest win in the history of Team USA. In 1992, no single game really meant all that much. Probably the team's most famous game was that rigged 1972 loss to the Soviet Union. But has there ever been a bigger win?