The Olympic Games: the place where dreams are made and conversely, shattered. Unfortunately, there are only three medals in every event and by that very fact, there are generally more dreams in tatters than those realised.
The Men's Basketball tournament displayed a mixture of both fortunes. Let's recap the winners and losers of these Games, both at a team and individual level.
WINNERS -- TEAM: RUSSIA
The Russians entered the month leading up to the Olympic Games unsure as to whether they would even be in London. Rather than steadily preparing for the Olympics as many of the other top teams did, the Russians were one of twelve teams that competed in the July Qualifying Tournament in Venezeula, after failing to get through the 2011 Eurobasket tournament.
As a last minute addition to the Games, expectations were relatively low for Russia. Their cornerstone, Andrei Kirilenko, has been quiet in recent NBA seasons and even returned to CSKA Moscow during the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season. Two of the other key pieces for this team are relatively young in Aleksey Shved and Timofey Mozgov. Yet somehow the Russians flew out of the gates to crash their way through Pool play into the medal knockout rounds.
Ultimately, the Russians made it to the bronze medal game and took on the more fancied Argentina. To the surprise of many, the much less experienced Russia took out the Bronze -- a fine performance from a team that had a great 2012 Olympic campaign.
LOSERS -- TEAM: ARGENTINA
Conversely, the Argentine squad would have had very real aspirations to not only medal, but potentially push Team USA as they have over the past decade at times.
To walk away from London empty handed must be a very hollow experience for a team that boasts the talents of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and Pablo Prigioni, just to name a few. Both Ginobili and Scola showed absolute brilliance at times -- including in that final game for the Bronze -- however it was for nought,
Anything less than a medal is a severe disappointment for a team like Argentina.
WINNER -- INDIVIDUAL: PATTY MILLS
The Australian point guard entered the London Olympics as the necessary key cog of the Boomers offence, particularly with the absence of star centre Andrew Bogut. Mills did not disappoint, as he not only led the Australians on the court and paced their scoring, but led the entire tournament in scoring at 21.2ppg.
Australian head coach Brett Brown was impressed with the play of Mills, who will also once again be under Brown's watchful eye in San Antonio next season, where Brown acts as assistant coach for the Spurs. Having just turned 24 years old this week, an accomplishment as top scorer in an Olympic tournament is not to be sneered at for Mills, who has many FIBA tournaments ahead of him.
As a volume scorer, there are always going to be times where Mills' shot does not connect. Notwithstanding this, Mills' highs were very impressive. His 39 points against Great Britain, followed by a buzzer-beating three against Russia were definite highlights, as were his 26 points against Team USA in the Quaterfinals.
Future Olympics alongside the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, Brad Newley and Aron Baynes will be interesting for this young Aussie guard.
LOSER -- INDIVIDUAL: KOBE BRYANT
When you are as fine an athlete as Kobe Bryant, with as storied a career as he has had, your measures of success are different to those of most others. "Loser?" you may rightly ask...
Despite taking out the Olympic Gold Medal, Bryant had a subpar Games by his usual lofty standards. Whilst he was certainly not required to take on a huge load with the superstar lineup collated around him, Bryant failed to make much of an impact throughout his London campaign.
Outside of the Quarterfinal against Australia, where the Lakers star certainly exploded in the fourth quarter with a string of three-pointers to put the game out of reach, Bryant's scoring output was relatively meagre and at a much lower clip than he would usually hope. The all-rounder put up averages of 12.1ppg (4th on team), 1.8rpg (9th) and 1.3apg (7th) but committed the most fouls on the team (2.2 per game), whilst shooting only 42.9% from the field. He also committed the second most turnovers on the team, after point guard Chris Paul.
It should be said that Kobe played a vital role as a team leader as elder statesman on and off the court, but to focus on that is to not know Kobe Bryant. The Mamba thrives upon dominating both ends of the basketball court and he will no doubt be fiercely critical of his own on-court performance during the Games. Look out Laker opponents when the NBA season rolls around.
Bryant was not a loser in the true sense of the word, but by Mamba standards, he was.
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