Bulls

LaVine, USA finish Olympics with flourish in gold medal match

Bulls

For the 16th time in program history, and fourth Games in a row, the USA Basketball Men’s National Team took home gold at the Olympics.

It wasn’t always easy during the Tokyo Games, but ultimately, the Americans’ star-studded roster won out.

Here are four observations from the gold medal match, a redemptive 87-82 victory over France, who not only defeated Team USA during the group phase, but also eliminated them from the 2019 World Cup:

The Kevin Durant Show

In USA’s group phase-opening loss to France on July 25, Kevin Durant was hampered by foul trouble, playing just 21 minutes and shooting 4-for-12 from the field.

No such luck this time around for the French. Durant, who appeared to intentionally refrain from contact when matched with Rudy Gobert inside, exploded for 12 first-quarter points to help the Americans flip a six-point deficit to a 22-18 lead entering the second. By halftime, he was up to 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting, 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.

Six more points in the third followed, then a quiet fourth to finish with 29 points on 9-for-18 shooting.

During these Games, Durant passed Carmelo Anthony as the all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball Men’s National Team Olympic history, and became the first player from the program to clear 400 career points in Olympic competition. It was his show from start to finish.

With special thanks to…

Team USA saw three others beside Durant break into double-figures: Jayson Tatum, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday.

 

Tatum hit some timely shots while Gregg Popovich spelled Durant in the first half, and finished with 19. He also hit a dagger 3 to put USA ahead 82-72 with just over three minutes to play.

Lillard, who has struggled for most of the Games, scored 11 points on just 4-for-11 shooting, but hit some timely triples in the second half.

And Holiday continued his stellar two-way play, notching 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and a block while massively impacting the game with his on-ball defense.

Closing time

In the group phase loss, USA led France by seven points with 3:41 to play, but sputtered away their advantage by scoring just two points the rest of the way.

In the gold medal match, they led 79-72 with 3:43 remaining in regulation — and 82-72 seconds later. This time, they finished the job.

That doesn’t mean it was pretty. Ahead 85-78 with 23 seconds left, Lillard missed two free throws, then Frank Ntilikina dunked to cut France’s deficit to five, then an errant Holiday pass allowed France another quick possession, which they used to make the score 85-82.

But after a timeout, Holiday got the ball into Durant, who swished two free throws with nine seconds remaining to seal the victory.

In the end, France was the sloppier side. They committed 18 turnovers (off which the Americans scored 20 points) and shot just 18-for-29 from the free-throw line.

Zach LaVine finishes in style

This was LaVine’s quietest outing of the Olympic run. In 14 minutes, he scored 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting, with four of those coming on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter.

But across six largely productive tournament games, LaVine averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 assists (0.5 turnovers), 2 rebounds and 0.8 steals, shooting 60 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point range. Beyond the stat sheet, he also brought intensity to the assignment of persistently pressuring opposing guards on-the-ball defensively. That experience can only aid in his quest for two-way stardom back home.

And, for good measure, he closed out USA’s golden victory with a smooth between-the-legs dunk just after the buzzer sounded:

Talk about finishing with a flourish.

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