BEIJING — Tayshaun Prince, a gold medal around his neck, reflected Sunday on what was nothing less than redemption for American basketball.
“This is what we came for, for today,” the former Wildcat said after helping the United States to a 118-107 victory over world champion Spain in the gold-medal game of the Beijing Olympics. “It ended up being 36 days (together, counting training camp) or whatever it might have been, but the ultimate goal was for us to be in the gold-medal game. All that we built up for turned out to be one of the best games in Olympic history.”
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The Redeem Team atoned for a 2004 bronze-medal finish, completing an 8-0 tournament. A fitting record, as eight is considered a lucky number in China and the Olympics opened on 8-8-08.
The first seven wins were no problem, coming by an average of 30.3 points. The eighth win was a different story.
Spain, a 119-82 loser to the U.S. in round-robin play, was in the game until the final minute.
“It feels great. Like I said, we were going to leave it all out on the line, no matter what,” said Prince, who contributed six points and two rebounds, playing 8:25 off the bench. “But I thought Spain did a great job, too. I think, especially at the beginning of the game ... we were missing a lot of easy reads on defense. We missed some easy opportunities and, obviously when you play against international teams, if you let them get off to a good start they get their confidence. If we get off to a great start and just kind of put on the gas in the first quarter, they’ll kind of let up because they know they really can’t catch up to us. But if you give them confidence in the first quarter, then they’ll be able to respond.”
Spain had more than confidence in the early going. The Spaniards had the lead, by as many as five points (22-17).
But, with Prince coming off the bench, Team USA went on a 9-0 run to take a 26-22 lead. Spain never broke, but it never caught up, either.
“Guys coming off the bench was huge,” Prince said. “Because Spain had all the momentum in the first quarter. And when we made subs, the energy kind of picked up.”
Prince came in at power forward, with Chris Bosh in the post. Add Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams and Chris Paul and you get one quick team. And quickness brings pressure.
Defense is Prince’s calling card. He has been an NBA all-defensive second-team selection for each of the last four seasons.
“It just goes to show that what I do on the basketball court is not taken for granted,” he said of his inclusion on Team USA. “Not too many players who are not All-Stars make an Olympic team.”
Team USA shot 39-for-55 (60 percent) from the field, including 13-for-28 (46 percent) from three-point range. Spain shot 38-for-74 (51 percent) and 8-for-17 (47 percent).
“Both teams were making the other defense look pretty bad,” Prince said. “But both teams just didn’t want to give up. Spain played great. Pau (Gasol) had a heck of a game. ... We did some poor things defensively, but our guys just kind of took over on the offensive end in the second half and that really kind of got us the win.”
Prince is in elite company, winning an NBA championship in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons and now adding Olympic gold.
Asked to compare championships, he said, “It’s a different feeling because you’re representing your country and, obviously, having the anthem being played at the end, when we’re standing on the stage — those type of things that don’t happen in the NBA when you win a championship. ... Representing your country, I think that’s what sets it apart.
“Because (in the) NBA you’ve got your city, your family cheering for you. And when you’re playing for the U.S., you’ve got everybody cheering for you.”
It’s been a long haul, though. Prince says next year will bring a summer that “is definitely going to be my time to not do anything.” But he wouldn’t mind doing in 2012 what he did Sunday for Team USA.
“I definitely was going to do whatever it took to help the team out,” he said, “and I felt I did that.”