BEIJING - Reuters
Hot favorite the United States won Olympic men's basketball gold by outgunning Spain 118-107 in an epic final of hard fouls and flying elbows yesterday.
The American players whooped with joy at the final buzzer before forming a huddle and dancing around the centre circle as chants of "USA, USA" erupted from the crowd of 18,000.
"USA is back on top again," LeBron James told reporters. "Respect to Spain. They were unbelievable. We had a game plan and they countered with incredible plays. The game was never over. I'm watching the game all over again in my head. It will go down in history as one of the greatest."
Argentina, champions at the 2004 Athens Olympics, took bronze by outmuscling Lithuania in a 87-75 victory earlier on the final day of the Games.
World champions Spain were down by as many as 14 points in the first half but pulled to within two on a Rudy Fernandez three-pointer with 8:13 left in the gold medal showdown.
Jolted into action, Kobe Bryant swished two huge three-pointers, putting his finger to his lips after the second which put the United States back up by eight with 3:10 left.
Dwyane Wade led the way with 27 points, sealing the game on another long bomb which he celebrated with a gunslinger's pose and a snarl of defiance to the crowd.
Big shots :
"I've always been able to step up and make big shots when the lights are brightest," said Wade, who made nine of 12 shots from the floor. "I just needed to be put in the position to do it."
Bryant, who turned 30 the day before the final, added 20 points. The Americans, relegated to bronze in Athens four years ago, have now won 13 Olympic men's basketball titles.
"What you saw today was a team," said Bryant, his gold medal around his neck. "Everyone talks about 'arrogant' NBA players but what you saw was us facing adversity and bonding together."
Crushed 119-82 by the Americans in the tournament's group stage, Spain hung on toughly in the final.
Fernandez scored 22 points and Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers teammate Pau Gasol added 21.
"We should be proud of what we accomplished," said Gasol. "We played a tough game. We never backed down."