TOKYO – Whatever the hurdles to get another gold medal this time around, everyone who signs up to play basketball for Team USA knows the standards in there. the Olympics. It’s not just gold or a bust, it’s gold or a disaster.
Several times during their trip in Tokyo, the US men’s basketball team leaned toward the void. They struggled to figure out the right way to play, saw some flaws in their roster being exploited and even lost a group stage match – something that hasn’t happened in 17 years.
But through it all, Team USA knew that finishing the job with a gold medal was the only thing that mattered. If anything, wrapping up a fourth consecutive US Olympic title with an 87-82 victory over France after two grueling weeks made the achievement seem all the more significant.
“I know it’s been like it’s been easy for a long time, but I played in 2016 and it wasn’t easy then and it wasn’t easy this year,” said striker Draymond Green. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take either of them for granted, but this one seems sweeter.”
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It seems so, because this time the end result was less certain and the obstacles were stacked higher. Some were the product of circumstances, including the COVID-19-affected NBA season that caused many top American players to withdraw from the Olympics. Some were products of American making, including poor play in two losses at the show and the first game against France on July 25. They felt like they had finally given up on them.
Then, the convergence process should take place quickly, especially with three main parts of the team – Junior Holiday, Khris Middleton And Devin Booker – they flew straight from the NBA Finals less than 24 hours before the Olympics start. Even from there, it wasn’t necessarily a linear path to reach the gold medal. They were challenged by Spain In the quarter-finals, he should have come from 15 points down Against Australia in the semi-finals Once again, it was necessary to deal with a French team that received physical blow after blow to the body but refused to leave.
Indeed, when France cut the deficit to just three points with 5:40 remaining after being behind by double digits for extended periods of the second half, it looked like a carbon copy of the first meeting when Rudi Gobert dominated hitting the smaller American frontline and Evan Fournier’s players The senior jumped along the stretch to take the win 83-76.
“It’s the gold-medal match, so there are no excuses,” Holiday said. “We knew what they wanted to do. In the first game, they threw it and Fournier came down, and that was something we felt we had to clean up. We didn’t want Fournier to go for 30 against us and we had to make Rudy and the big boys work for it.”
But this time, the United States had a response of its own. She also had Kevin Durant.
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For all the uncertainty that surrounds this team of stars about how to play together and perform under pressure, Durant has risen above it in ways that suggest Team USA wouldn’t have won the gold medal without him.
Durant scored 29 points Saturday in a group of shots that, as Joubert said, “only he in the world can hit,” will go down in the history books — remarkably — as his third best performance in a gold-medal game after reaching 30 points in two years. 2012 and 2016.
This time, every single one of them was necessary. That was true at first, when he had 21 of 44 points for the Americans in the first half, and late when the US managed to get the ball in an indoor game with 10.2 seconds left after France improbably closed in on nine points. A gap within the last minute and change to 85-82. When Durant made the two subsequent throws, there was jubilation and relief for the team that sensed criticism and doubts coming from across the Pacific.
“I’ve never lost with Team USA before, so losing was tough,” said Durant, who became the Olympic top scorer during this tournament. “I remember we had a team meeting after the first game against France, (coach Gregg Popovich) was not there, and you know when you have a team meeting, you’re at the bottom of the match. So we made our way from there and everyone is committed to doing the best for the group no matter what. The reason. A lot of people doubted us and said it would be hard for us to win, and it doesn’t really matter, but you hear the noise. We got together and finished it.”
There was no choice but to rendezvous behind Durant, and he had to collect a run of games as he did, averaging 27 points and shooting 53.7% from the field over the three knockout rounds. The irony, of course, is that had the Olympics been held on schedule in 2020, it is not entirely certain whether Durant would be ready after his lengthy recovery from an Achilles tendon injury.
Although Durant has proven during the NBA season to be healthy — and nearly took the Brooklyn Nets to the Eastern Conference Finals despite his teammates James Harden and Kyrie Irving being injured in the playoffs — he is still a wonder in some ways that he Make American basketball a priority this summer.
“Kevin Durant is exactly what we thought he was — one of the greatest players who ever played this game, one of the most special players I’ve ever seen tying their shoes,” Green said. “At 7ft doing what he does. This is a special man. He carried this team as we needed it, as it was supposed to come back, for the third Olympics. There were so many great players who wore this jersey and it is #1. This is something special.”
And also this gold medal, which was not safe enough to feel comfortable until literally the last moments against a French team that was equal to the Americans despite having a fraction of their star power.
But decades from now, the details and issues that made it so complicated will fade away. What they will remember is that mission accomplished.
“We’re thrilled to represent the country the way we did,” Popovich said. “The team progressed very quickly in a very short period of time under some difficult conditions, which made the win even sweeter. We are happy that it is over.”