U.S.-Spain preview: Big bodies, quick guards to confront Team USA
One particular story stuck in Bosh's head.
"It was about how they all cried when they won the world championship," Bosh said.
That happened two years ago in Japan, on a night when not a single American player was inside the Saitama SuperArena to witness Spain's pulverization of Greece in the gold medal game, a night when Pau Gasol hobbled into the celebration on crutches with his broken foot encased in a plaster cast, injured in a semifinal victory over Argentina.
Spain was No. 1 that evening, while Bosh was packing his suitcase for the long, disappointing flight back home, the bronze medal in his baggage, his only reward for six weeks of hard work and dedication. During the following two years, on Raptors' team flights, in hotel lobbies and at practices, the topic resurfaced from time to time.
"We talked about how they like doing things, what they do when they get together, what their team process is -- how they hang out together and stuff like that, about China, comparing and contrasting stories and styles and all that stuff," Bosh said on Friday, adding that he poked fun at Calderon -- and at former Raptors teammate Jorge Garbajosa -- for shedding those tears of joy.
"I'm not a crier, but those guys are emotional, and that's a great thing," Bosh said.
Not only are they emotional, but the Spanish are talented, too -- talented enough to have gone undefeated through their first three games of these Olympics, handily defeating Greece and Germany, but needing a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback to triumph over China in overtime.
The core members of the team -- Calderon, Garbajosa, Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Carlos Jimenez -- are spending their seventh consecutive summer competing together (Rudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes are with Spain for the fifth straight year), and their collective résumé includes a victory over the United States at the 2002 world championship, and a loss to the Americans in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Athens Olympics after they had gone 5-0 in pool play.
Saturday (10:15 a.m. ET) marks the first time in four years that they have competed against Team USA, with first place in Group B at stake.
"We know it's a very important game," Garbajosa said. "We have been talking about the game for the last month, but we know if we win or we lose, it's just going to be one point [in the Olympic standings], just like Germany or Angola, but we're excited about this game. We will play a good game. We will try to beat them. For sure we will play 100 percent."
Said Calderon: "We're going to see what is our level. But [beyond] that, it's not really important. The important game is going to be played later. We've got to wait, play and learn, and we've got to be smarter than them. We're going to play like us, we're going to see what is our level, what is their level. Like I said, the important game is later, but we're going to play for the win. We want to have the first spot in the group."
The winner of the Spain-U.S. game -- the Americans are a 14½ point favorite -- should end up with a more favorable matchup in the quarterfinals next Wednesday against the fourth-place team from Group A (where Lithuania (3-0) currently is first, Argentina and Croatia (2-1) are tied for second, and Australia and Russia (1-2) are tied for fourth.
Kobe Bryant said he will be getting the defensive assignment on Rudy Fernandez -- although that might not happen at the outset, as Spanish coach Aito Garcia Reneses has been juggling his lineup unpredictably. For instance, he has twice used Raul Lopez as the starter and then benched him for the rest of the game after five-minute stints, and he has been giving additional backup point guard minutes to 17-year-old phenom Ricky Rubio over Calderon.
Garcia Reneses' rotations have confounded the American scouts and coaching staff, who believe he is using his juggling act to keep opponents off-balance from a preparation standpoint.
"I think he feels he can win any game he goes into, and he can beat any team in the other group, but I think [Saturday] he's going to play heavy minutes for Calderon and those other main guys," chief U.S. scout Tony Ronzone said. "I think he's going to zone us, mix it up and see what in his bag of tricks will work against us. He understands that, that game matters, but it also doesn't matter. Put it this way: they're going to junk us [Saturday]."
The Americans are familiar with Pau Gasol's game from his time in the NBA, but this will be their first look at Marc Gasol, whose conditioning (he's gone from chubby to muscular) and his low-post game have developed considerably over the past two years.
"He [Marc] is more physical, just from his size," Bryant said. "I think skill-wise they both have incredible skill. Pau's a better shooter, but around the basket they both use their left hand, right hand, good touch, great passers -- a lot of versatility for bigs."
Pau Gasol is shooting 63 percent from the field over Spain's three games, averaging a team-high 17.7 points, and Fernandez is its second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game. Spain has shot 36 percent from 3-point range (Team USA is at 29 percent) and has outrebounded its opponents by an average of eight per game.
"You have to be smart against Spain, you can't just pressure them," Bryant said. "You have to be smart about where you force them, when you pressure them, because they can cut you apart. Their guards have a lot more quickness than Greece's guards, they're quick as hell, clever and crafty, so you've got to be careful around them."
So while Thursday's 92-69 victory over Greece was a fulfilling step on Team USA on its so-called road to redemption, Saturday's game will be a better test of its skills against the reigning world champion -- a team with so much passion, so much togetherness, that tears fell from their eyes two years ago.
Should be a good one, but keep one thing in mind: These two teams are the favorites to be playing for the gold a week from Sunday -- and that's when a truer measure might be taken of which team is better.
Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.
Team USA: Redemption In Beijing
Team USA won the Olympic gold medal in men's basketball after years of frustration.
Roster | Schedule | TV | Scores | Standings
The Redeem TeamSheridan: 1992 vs. 2008
They redeemed U.S. hoops and reclaimed Olympic gold. So, how does the '08 team stack up to the Dream Team? Chris Sheridan
• Sheridan: Dream scene
TrueHoop: What next?
Team USA was great in '08. But how will it remain on top of the world? We've got the plan (with a few new faces) moving forward. TrueHoop
• TrueHoop: Day of redemption
Jackson: Truly redeemed?
Yes, the U.S. men's basketball team recaptured the Olympic gold in Beijing. But did they really accomplish their mission? Depends how you look at it. Scoop Jackson
Hollinger: International flair
Team USA got the gold, but the game of basketball was also a big winner. Here's a look at how the NBA's international stars fared in the Beijing Olympics. John Hollinger
Medal Round• Sheridan: United statement
• Forde: Coach K deserves praise
• Hill: Rooting for redemption
• Sheridan: USA gets revenge vs. Argentina
• Sheridan: US-Argentina rivalry renewed
• Sheridan: Dispelling two Team USA myths
• Sheridan: One down, two to go
• Sheridan: Quarterfinals roundup
• Sheridan: A whole new ballgame
• Sheridan: Previewing the quarterfinals
• Sheridan: Australia won't be scared
Preliminary Round• Day 5: Greece earns date with Argentina
• Sheridan: Kaman suits up for Germany
• Sheridan: Unchallenged by Spain in 37-point win
• Bucher: Unselfishness sets Team USA apart
• Day 4: Aussies, China clinch medal-round berths
• Watch: Coach K and the challenge of Team USA
• Sheridan: Spain's strengths pose challenge
• Mag: Rubio is Spain's teen phenom
• Sheridan: Winning Grecian formula for Team USA
• Broussard: Wade back in elite conversation
• Day 3: Lithuania, Spain remain undefeated
• Sheridan: Team USA's Greek strategy
• Sheridan: Angola was easy, Greece won't be
• Day 2: China almost upsets Spain; Croatia rolls
• Forde: U.S.-China game had historic feel
• Sheridan: Yi struggles against Team USA
• Day 1 roundup: Argentina upset
• Israeli, Iranian share embrace
TrueHoop• Chris Bosh on Olympic intensity
• The Next Team USA
• Suddenly, Team USA looks enormous
• Spain's joke not funny
• The other Redeem Team: Spain
• Dream Team not the model
• Yao Ming is no Kobe Bryant
• Team USA's Chinese fans
• Is Team USA muzzled or not?
Olympic Preview• Sheridan: 10 questions for opening round
• Sheridan: Who will grab gold?
• Sheridan: Argentina, Russia headline Group A
• Sheridan: USA, Spain tops in Group B
• Jackson: Something's missing on USA's roster
• Kobe & Co. arrive to heroes' welcome in Beijing
• Ford: Top int'l draft prospects at Olympics
• Watch: Best internationals in action