|Russia claimed their first Olympic medal since the breakup of the Soviet Union|
Five European nations were among the 12 that competed in the Men's Basketball Tournament at the London Olympics and when it was all done and dusted, the continent had collected two of the three Olympic medals.
Russia, who conquered the bronze medal at EuroBasket 2011, along with F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Lithuania and Greece, who had finished in fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively, had to earn a ticket to London through the Qualifying Tournament, in Venezuela.
The Russians and the Lithuanians proved up to the task, clinching two of the three privileged spots with considerable ease.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia and Greece however were stunned by the Dominican Republic and Nigeria, respectively, and both missed out on the big rendezvous in the British capital.
Russia picked up where they'd left off in Venezuela upon their return to Europe for the big event and dominated hosts Great Britain in the opening game, 95-75.
Team USA in Group A was always going to be the one stealing the limelight, but David Blatt's side kept going about its business methodically in Group B.
Andrei Kirilenko was at his usual best, Vitaly Fridzon was hitting big shots from the perimeter and the likes of Alexey Shved, Timofey Mozgov, Sasha Kaun, Victor Khryapa and Anton Ponkrashov were playing their roles to perfection in the well-tuned Russian orchestra.
Russia edged out Spain 77-74 in their next European derby and topped the group with a 4-1 record, after succumbing to an 82-80 loss of no consequence to Australia on the final day of group action.
Spain struggled to find their rhythm throughout the first phase in London but still managed to take third place in the group, behind Brazil.
Great Britain won only one of their five games and missed out on the quarter-finals, to the disappointment of the local crowd.
In Group A meanwhile, a proud Lithuania gave the USA a good scare when the two teams met on the fourth day but ended up losing 99-94.
Despite that excellent display, Kestutis Kemzura's side lacked consistency in their performance and won only two of their five games in the group.
Lithuania still managed to take fourth spot and qualify for the quarter-finals but undoubtedly the other European team in this pool, France, looked to be in better form.
The EuroBasket silver medallists fell 98-71 to USA in the opener but then went on to win their next four games to take second place in the group with ease.
Les Bleus prevailed over an always great Argentina 71-64 and defeated the Baltic side 82-74 in the European derby.
|Marc Gasol contributed 14 points and eight rebounds, as Spain prevailed over France in their all-European Quarter-Final |
The four European teams had all advanced, but unfortunately were paired up between them in the quarter-finals and only two could get the chance to fight for the medals.
France were particularly unlucky in that they were going up against Spain, at exactly the time the European champions decided to step it up as the do-or-die phase of the tournament was under way.
Spain trailed for most of the game but shut down the French in the final quarter, only giving up six points in that period, to prevail 66-59 in the replay of the EuroBasket 2011 final.
In the other European match-up, Russia confirmed they were in excellent form by assuming control of the clash with Lithuania right from tip-off.
The all-round forward picked up a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds, Mozgov added 17 points and Russia held on to win 83-74.
In the remaining two encounters in the last-eight phase the USA made easy work of their game with Australia, 119-86, while Argentina prevailed in the big clash with arch-rivals Brazil, 82-77.
There was little doubt that Russia were the best European team at the early stages in London and, for the first time since 2007, they entered a head-to-head clash with Spain as favourites.
The Russians laid the groundwork for victory with a stratospheric defensive effort in the first half to lead 31-20 at half-time.
Spain however returned to the court after the interval to display the qualities that have guided them to the top of European basketball in recent years and levelled proceedings with a big third quarter.
The two giants entered the final stanza tied at 46 but Spain kept their calm in the clutch and pulled away to punch the ticket to the big final, 67-59.
Pau Gasol was once again immense for the winners, and finished with a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Kaun had 14 points for Russia while Kirilenko and Ponkrashov had 10 each in losing efforts.
In the other semi-final, the always competitive Argentina run out of gas in the third quarter and Team USA sealed their pass to the final with a 109-83 triumph.
|Pau Gasol and Spain faced the USA in a final for the ages|
Russia had to regroup fast after the disappointment as gutsy Argentina were never going to give up the bronze medal they had won in Beijing without a fight.
In an extremely tense and tight game, the South Americans led 77-76 with 37 seconds on the clock but a huge three by Shved, who was immense in the clutch, gave Russia a two-point cushion.
Andres Nocioni's three-point attempt did not drop in, Russia got the rebound but Pablo Prigioni stole the ball.
Argentina failed to take a shot though, Shved regained possession and passed to Fridzon who made a lay-up for Russia to win the game 81-77 and clinch the bronze medal.
The stage was set for the big USA v Spain showdown everyone was expecting and the gold medal game did not disappoint.
In a final for the ages, the Americans started red-hot from long range but 19 first-half points from a majestic Juan Carlos Navarro kept Spain breathing down their neck.
Spain led several times, but the Americans rallied to go up 83-82 at the third buzzer.
They pulled away in the start of the fourth and despite a last-ditch attempt by Spain that reduced the gap to four, 90-86, a huge three by Kevin Durant sparked a 6-0 run that gave the Americans a 10-point cushion.
USA outlasted the EuroBasket gold medallists 107-100 and were proclaimed Olympic champions.
Spain had challenged the worthy winners as equals and made Europe proud with their titanic effort.
Durant led all scorers with 30 points and added nine rebounds while LeBron James had 19 points and Kobe Bryant 17 for the winners.
For Spain, Pau Gasol had 24 points and eight rebounds, Navarro 21 points and Marc Gasol 17 despite getting into foul trouble early and playing for only 18 minutes.