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Team USA Clinches Gold

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Damian Lillard is a gold medalist for the first time.

Men’s Basketball Medal Ceremony: Day 15 Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After some skepticism of Team USA’s struggles early in the Tokyo Olympics, the squad seemed to figure it out and obtained the gold medal. It seemed as if France had its number, as Team USA suffered losses (89-79) in the 2019 World Cup and (83-76) in the first game of the Olympics. However, the Americans built better chemistry to not only beat the French but prove to the world that they’re the most dominant.

France’s Talented Roster

You can’t snooze when it pertains to France’s Olympic roster. Let’s take a look:

First Half

Although the game was close for a majority of the time, Team USA ramped up its defense to extremely stifle France’s rhythm and seize control from the gate. France’s first offensive possession resulted in a turnover: a 24-second violation. Team USA was scrambling and rotations were on par to create a lack of ball movement and spacing. France wound up with three turnovers in the first four minutes.

Team USA continued its early first half struggles, starting off the game shooting poorly. In the first quarter, it was 2-of-6 from the field and at one point was 0-of-8 from three. Ultimately, it shot 8-of-19 from the field and 2-of-11 from three. Although those are beautiful numbers, what was impressive was the light switch that was turned on. After starting 2-of-6 from the field, USA made six of their next 13 shots, leading it on a 16-6 run and taking a 4-point lead after 12-6 early.

Team USA built a double-digit lead through the second quarter and set the tone defensively, getting out on shooters, clogging the paint, and protecting the rim. This led to France committing 10 turnovers in the first half while USA only had two. Team USA finished the half 16-of-37 from the field and 4-of-18 from beyond the arc. With Kevin Durant’s spectacular play, he led the way with 21 points 7-14 overall and 2-7 from three and Jayson Tatum with 11. Gobert was the leader on the other end with 13 points and seven rebounds.

Second Half

The third quarter belonged to Team USA as it seemed to smell the coffee in the locker room preceding the second half. Over the previous four games, the Americans have outscored its opponents 115-60, with the most impressive being their 32-10 outscoring output against Australia. This would again be displayed against France. Damian Lillard started off the third quarter well with a nice assist to Bam Adebayo and a three-pointer. Lillard’s three was very critical as the squad only had a 3-point lead and he pushed it to five. Team USA ultimately outscored France only 27-24, but came out the gates firing, building a 71-57 lead. Team USA was doing a great job of creating turnovers and getting out in transition. In the third quarter, the squad shot 11-of-17 from the field and 4-of-9 from three. France still hung around though as the game was lead was closed to eight (71-63) after a pair of three-pointers.

For the fourth quarter, the offense was pretty ugly for Team USA. There were an abundance of missed shots as the team shot 5-of-16 from the field and 1-of-5 from three. What kept it in the game at this point was its tenacious defense. With 5:15 left in the game, Jrue Holiday continued his tremendous defensive presence as he’s done all year. He jumped beautifully in the passing lane for the breakaway dunk, pushing the lead to 77-70. The last seconds is where it became chaotic though, so pay attention to this sequence.

In the last seconds of the game, Holiday was fouled with 31.3 seconds remaining with Team USA up 84-78. He converted on 1-of-2 with missing the second. Draymond Green backtapped the missed out and Lillard was ultimately fouled. He missed both free throws and France’s Ntilikina scored a quick dunk cutting the lead to five. France’s Nicolas Batum stole the inbounds pass resulting in de Colo being fouled for two shots. After converting on both, USA was only up three and Durant was fouled and made both free throws. The Americans secured the (87-82) victory over France to acquire its fourth consecutive gold medal.

How USA Got Gold

It was a great teammate to get the win and the stats were as follows:

Durant - 29 points, six rebounds, one block
Tatum - 19 points, seven rebounds
Holiday - 11 points, five rebounds, three steals, one block
Lillard - 11 points, three assists, one steal
Adebayo - six points, six rebounds, four assists, three blocks, one steal.

Coming into this game, Team USA allowed only 36% from three. It held Team France to 32.3% shooting games from beyond the arc and forced a whopping 18 turnovers. This defense was essential because although Team USA came into this game shooting 41% from three, they were held to 28.1% shooting from beyond the arc.

There was always a question of who’s going to be that second guy to help Durant. That question was answered against Czech Republic with Tatum’s 27 points and three other guys in double figures. It was also answered against Spain with four other guys in double figures. Against Australia, Devin Booker supplied 20 points. And now in the finals against France, Tatum answered that call with his 19 points. Players like Adebayo and Green supplied the team with rim protection and rebounding and Zach LaVine came in to be a threat offensively. Players understood their role and it built chemistry.

Speaking of chemistry, Durant scored 10 points, the bench scored 33 points, and the team shot 36% overall and 31% from three in the Game One against France. In the four previous games before the finals, Durant averaged 21.3 points, the bench averaged 47.3 points, and the team shot 53.4% overall and 39.7% from three and proved its dominance. And team captain Durant put a stamp on his Olympic legacy.

Kevin “Slim Reaper” Durant

Obtaining his third gold medal, Durant joins Carmelo Anthony as the only players to do so. He’s number one in total points (435) and it all came in an impressive 22 games. Anthony, who is now second, scored 336 points in 31 games. Aside from being the points leader in the Tokyo Olympics, Durant did the same in the 2012 (London) and 2016 (Rio) olympics with 156 and 155 points, respectively. He’s also number one in free throws made, 3-pointers made, and now 3-point attempts. He put a stamp on this team as the go-to player and came out with a bang. Durant explained what made this title so special:

“We went through some real adversity . We lost a game in the tournament. We lost 2 exhibition games. We had some unusual circumstances with COVID, guys playing in finals and coming in late. We just fought through everything you know? 2.5 weeks away from our families, basically in the bubble, you know so it’s definitely different. I’m glad we finished the job.”

And he did just that. Durant had 30 points in each of the gold medal games in London and Rio. He was 8-of-9 from the free throw line in this one and could have had 30 again. I was disappointed with that but who am I to judge and who cares! The man has three golds now and is the best basketball Olympian of all time. He’s also shown he’s the best player on the planet. Don’t @ me, thanks!

Conclusion: Got It Done Even Through the Ugly

Even with disappointing losses to Nigeria and Australia in the exhibition games, or the loss in Game One of the tournament to France, Team USA figured it out. In many instances, it’s not of how you won, but if you won and they did. The biggest hurdle Team USA has its constant changes in roster of players that participate in the world games versus many other teams that have consistent guys. With competing against one of the best, if not the best, Olympic rosters ever assembled, Team USA proved its dominance with its talented roster, spear-headed by the “Slim Reaper.” Through the good, the bad, and the ugly, Team USA dug deep in the mine and struck gold.