BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – There is no exhibition game gold medal. The only prize was some player of the game award LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony shared.
Not counting doesn’t mean not mattering.
Once U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski told the U.S. Olympic team that it was playing in probably the biggest basketball game here since the Dream Team ruled Barcelona, the Americans couldn’t help wanting to take it to Spain – even if it may have messed them up in the beginning.
“Today was one of those games that as a team, as a unit, we really tried to lock in from the start,” Anthony said. “I think we came out a little bit too focused, a little bit overzealous at the beginning and they jumped on us quick.
“They came out with a lot of intensity and got some easy shots, easy baskets. Once we settled down and made a couple plays defensively, got back to our comfort zone, we didn’t look back from there.”
Anthony came off the bench to score 23 of his 27 points in the first half, and the Americans beat Spain 100-78 Tuesday night in a rematch of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game – and a possible preview of the next one.
James added 25 and Kevin Durant had 13, including 10 in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third quarter to help the U.S. break open the teams’ final exhibition game before heading to London.
“We knew that this was a big game,” U.S. guard Chris Paul said. “When Coach K talked to us, he told us this was probably the biggest game here in Barcelona since the `92 team was here, so we approached it like that and it was a good win for us.”
The teams played a memorable gold-medal game four years ago, the Americans pulling away for a 118-107 victory after leading by only four points with less than 2 1/2 minutes left.
This one turned out much easier once the U.S. controlled the final three quarters.
“It was a good test for us tonight, but the exhibition games are over, the friendlies are over and we look forward to the real challenge of going to London,” James said.
Pau Gasol scored 19 points and Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo who became a Spanish national last year, had 16.
Both teams have been weakened by injuries, with the U.S. missing Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, all key contributors in Beijing, along with Derrick Rose.
The Spaniards are without point guard Ricky Rubio, and All-Star center Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez have battled injuries this year.
They’re still the best two teams in the world and favored to meet again in the Aug. 12 gold-medal game. Spain would have a different look, as Marc Gasol was held out of this one while recovering from a left shoulder injury and backup point guard Sergio Rodriguez also sat out.
It may not matter if the Americans play like this in the games that count.