The superstars of the NBA came together for Team USA on Friday, Aug. 6, in the Gold Medal game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, defeating Team France 87-82 at Saitama Super Arena. It was the first gold medal won by assistant coach Steve Kerr, former University of Arizona Wildcat and current head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
Team USA faced an unusual amount of skepticism ahead of their game against France, much in part having to do with USA losing their opening game to France 83-76 earlier in the Olympics. Center Rudy Gobert of France was now the talk of the Olympics, going undefeated in pool play and looking for his country’s first ever gold medal in basketball.
USA head coach Greg Popovich went with a starting lineup that featured point guard Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), shooting guard Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), small forward Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), power forward Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks) and center Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat).
Five minutes into the game with USA down 10-4 after a wide open three pointer by small forward Nicolas Batum, things were looking shaky, and Popovich called his first timeout. The team shot 0-5 from the three-point line, Holiday and Booker already committed their first fouls and Durant only had two points.
After the timeout, Durant started to get going, hitting back-to-back shots to cut the lead to 14-12. With the other starters struggling a bit, USA subbed in shooting guard Zach Lavine (Chicago Bulls), power forward Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), small forward Kris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) and shooting guard Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics).
Durant broke the three-point drought with two minutes left in the first quarter to tie the game at 15-15. Tatum put an exclamation mark on the first quarter with a made three-pointer to give USA a 22-18 lead.
“This is what you dream about,” Tatum told NBC.
Tatum continued his quick start with an elbow jumper to open the second quarter, followed by a Lillard free throw to give USA an early 25-18 lead. Center Moustapha Fall got going for France in the paint, pushing Green around twice in a row to cut the USA lead to 28-24.
With the offense stagnating a bit, Durant was reinserted into the game and fielded a sweet pass from Adebayo that resulted in a dunk and one. Soon after Booker dished the ball to Durant for a wide-open corner three-pointer to give USA their largest lead of the game, 38-26, with five minutes left in the half.
On the next play, shooting guard Evan Fournier drove into the paint but was stripped by Adebayo. Fornier didn’t like the call and complained to the referee, which resulted in a technical foul. In FIBA, technical fouls count as personals, so Fornier received his second foul and Durant made the free throw to increase the lead to 39-26.
France made a push at the end of the quarter going a 13-5 run, including 7-11 from the free throw line to cut the USA lead to 44-39.
“Our defense was good early, but then we started fouling which was the biggest problem in the second quarter,” Kerr told NBC. “France was trying to turn it into a rock fight by dumping the ball inside [the paint] and we have to do a better job of keeping it out of the paint and not fouling and sending them to the line.”
USA came out hot in the second half with seven unanswered points and reclaimed a double-digit lead of 56-45. After a Lavine jumper from the corner extended the lead 69-57 with two minutes left in the corner, Holiday blocked a layup attempt by point guard Thomas Heurtel that set up a Tatum dunk at the other end. France called timeout and USA led 71-57 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. France ended the quarter with a 6-0 run with USA leading 71-63 heading into the fourth quarter. Even coming off the bench, Tatum said he understood the importance of his role.
“Do whatever it takes,” Tatum told NBC. “Everybody had to do whatever it took … and we figured it out.”
Halfway through the fourth quarter USA maintained a 77-70 lead, with France getting as close as being down by three but never taking the lead. One of the biggest shots of the quarter came at 3:19 when Tatum hit a big three-pointer to give USA a double-digit lead of 82-72.
With 23.3 seconds left in the game and USA up 85-78, France was in desperation mode, and they fouled Lillard instead of giving up the basket. Lillard had the opportunity to put the game away, but instead missed both free throws, and USA gave up an easy layup to bring the game within five with 17.6 seconds left. Holiday inbounded for USA, but he turned the ball over on the inbound pass and France was fouled with 10.2 seconds left. Shooting guard Nando De Colo made both free throws and just like that it was just a three-point USA lead.
Coming out of the timeout, USA needed to get the ball in play. They were able to find an open Durant who was immediately fouled by Gobert, who received his fifth foul and was out of the game. Durant hit both free throws to ice the game and the USA walked away with a gold medal with a final score of 87-82.
“It meant a lot,” Durant told NBC. “France is a good team. They do not quit, and they play hard every minute they are on the floor. It presented a nice challenge, but we wanted them again and we were able to finish this game off.”
In his last three Olympics, Durant has scored 30 points in London, 30 points in Rio de Janeiro and 29 in Tokyo. With only one game to determine the gold medal, Durant said he knows there’s no time to save energy.
“It’s winning time,” Durant told NBC. “There is one game and [loser] goes home. There is no series, so I have to give my all every second I am out there.”
Key stats from the gold medal game.
· Durant is USA men’s basketball all-time leader in points, free throws made and three-pointers made and attempted. He is also tied with Carmelo Anthony for the most Olympic gold medals (three) in USA men’s basketball history.
· Unbeknownst to the public, Lillard played through an abdomen injury throughout the entire 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
· Tatum scored 19 points off the bench, more than any starter or bench player on Team France.
· France had more field goals (two and three pointers), rebounds and assists than Team USA and still lost.
· Green and Durant were the only former Olympians on Team USA.
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