The U.S. men's basketball team beat France 87-82 to win the Olympic gold medal on Friday night in Tokyo. Here are five observations from what went down...
Fourth straight gold
There was justifiable concern for the United States throughout the early stages of their Olympic run after they lost their first two exhibition games and then their Olympic opener against France. In each defeat they looked vulnerable against teams with less talent but more chemistry.
To their credit, Team USA became a better team the more they played together and with their win in the rematch over France on Friday night, secured the gold medal they were predicted to win in the first place, even if it was a more difficult road than anyone expected. They enjoyed a narrow victory thanks to another dominant performance by Kevin Durant.
Durant set the tone early with 12 points in the first quarter, including a bully-ball layup right in Rudy Gobert's personal space. Durant scored a game-high 29 points and shot 9-for-18. The United States won despite shooting 28.1% (9-32) from three and 66.7% (14-21) from the free-throw line.
Durant is an Olympic legend
It is uniquely impressive any time a team with this many stars gets together and one guy separates himself from the rest. Durant did that during these Olympics, which resulted in his third gold medal and the all-time scoring record for the U.S. men's team. And it continued a trend for him, as he scored 30 points in the gold medal games in both 2012 and 2016.
In addition to his 29 points, Durant also had six rebounds and a block. He was a superstar among stars and without him, the U.S. may have been in serious trouble. Keep in mind all of this was technically the continuation of Durant's first season back from a torn Achilles. The fact he played for the Nets this past NBA season (with fewer off days) and into the second round of the playoffs, then went to Tokyo to lift the U.S. to gold is extraordinary.
Tatum stepped up
The second-leading scorer for the United States in this game was Jayson Tatum, who at only 23 years old made quite an impression in Tokyo. He had 19 points, seven rebounds and shot 3-for-5 from three. All of that came off the bench, as he gave Team USA a spark behind Durant's initial burst.
Tatum is so naturally good as a scorer, not unlike Durant. But he doesn't yet have the take-charge aggression that Durant does on the Olympic stage. Watching them both go to work in this game, it's easy to see how Tatum could someday be leading Team USA in a similar fashion. At his age, Tatum could have two or three more chances to play in the Olympics if he wants to.
There are many differences in the rules of FIBA basketball compared to the NBA, but the most notable is probably the one allowing players to grab the ball off the rim and not be called for goaltending. It's a big change, but not overly noticeable when you watch Olympic games.
Draymond Green, though, provided one of the best examples you will see against France. With 2:18 to go in the fourth quarter, as France was continuing their push, Green snatched a rebound out of the cylinder on a free throw attempt. It prevented a possible point for France when the U.S. was nursing a seven-point lead.
JaVale won gold
Though he didn't appear in this game, shout out to JaVale McGee. The former Wizards first-round pick is now a gold medalist in addition to being a three-time NBA champion. He has won three rings and a gold all in the last five years. That is a remarkable run for any player and an incredible chapter in what has been a fascinating career.