The quarter-final game between the USA and Spain looked like a good matchup on paper, considering they were the #1 and #2 ranked teams heading into the Olympics.
The game started off chippy. Ricky Rubio, like in their previous game against Slovenia, was Spain’s offensive leader and had a huge first quarter with 13 points as they finished with a 21-19 advantage after the first quarter.
The Americans, who looked to have momentum early in the first quarter behind 7 points from Kevin Durant but didn’t look particularly great on defense. Spain outrebounded them 14-6 in the first quarter, too, making it hard to get second-chance points.
The second quarter started with both teams trading threes, and Team USA grabbed a 26-24 lead again on a fast break but couldn’t build on it. The Spaniards answered with a 5-0 run to make it 29-26. Jayson Tatum tied the game at 29 with another three, but Spain used their superior passing and rebounding to retake the lead at 31-29.
The Americans used barely any off-ball movement in the second quarter, which forced a number of bad shots and desperation heaves to beat the shot clock – or early shots on the break that were unnecessary. When the shots wouldn’t fall, they had no answer as Spain pushed their lead to 39-29 before Devin Booker was finally able to halt the bleeding to make it 39-31, and Khris Middleton followed it up with a good cutting bucket to make it 39-33. Lillard then answered another Spain bucket with a three-point play to make it 41-36. Another run from the Americans saw them tie the game 43-43 at the end of the second half, reminding everyone about how well they can score.
As brilliant as Rubio was in the first quarter, he ended up with no points in the second quarter. Durant led his team with 12 points at the break.
With their scoring looking to have been fixed by the end of the second half, the big question was if the Americans would be able to start rebounding better. They finished with a 29-18 deficit on that end at the half. Spain also had a 6-0 advantage in blocks.
Team USA finally re-took the lead with 9:20 left in the third quarter as Bam Adebayo split a pair of free throws to make it 44-43. The Americans finally started moving the ball around well, too, and grabbed a 53-45 lead with a little over 7 minutes left in the third quarter as they took advantage of Spain’s inability to finish buckets around the rim. Another three from Durant made it a 56-47 game, and he continued to fuel their run as the lead ballooned to 65-49 with 4:33 left in the third.
Rubio came back to life in the third quarter, using his crafty veteran knowledge to force fouls and free throws. He had 27 points when he sat to close the third quarter. On the other side, Durant’s scoring explosion in the third quarter pushed his total to 25 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Americans had figured their way around the Spanish defense, it seemed, and they held a 21-12 advantage in assists going into the final quarter as they held a 69-63 advantage.
The US pushed it back to a 77-66 lead with 7:30 left in the game, and Spain promptly called a timeout after to finally bring Rubio back in the game. It was a case of too little, too late, though, even after Rubio cut the lead back to single digits with less than five minutes left in the game. The Minnesota Timberwolves player didn’t get enough help from his aging teammates. Rubio left it all on the floor with 38 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a block. The rest of Spain finished with 43 points.
Durant led the Americans with 29 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block. Jrue Holiday, Zach LaVine, Lillard and Tatum also scored in double figures.
It’s a heartbreaker for Spain, who were forced into a tougher game in the quarter-finals after losing to Slovenia in their final group-stage game. However, credit must go to the Americans who forced 17 turnovers and scored 17 turnovers from them. Their superior talent just ended up being too much in the end, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Team USA also finished with a huge 28-12 assist advantage.