Nothing about their summer was easy for the US men’s basketball team, and neither was the Olympic gold-medal game.
The Americans expected nothing less.
And in the end, their Olympic reign continues.
Kevin Durant scored 29 points and joined Carmelo Anthony as the only three-time men’s gold medallists in Olympic history as the US held off France 87-82 on Saturday to win the title at the Tokyo Games – ending a summer that started with sputters but closed with celebration.
Durant sealed it with two free throws with 8.8 seconds left. The US players gathered for a hug at midcourt, Durant, Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green wrapped themselves in American flags, and the journey was complete.
Jayson Tatum finished with 19 points, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday each scored 11 for the U.S.
Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert each scored 16 for France, which now has four silver medals – all coming after gold-medal-game losses to the US. Guerschon Yabusele scored 13, Nando de Colo had 12 and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 11 for France.
Frank Ntilikina’s 3-pointer got France within 73-70 with 5:42 left, but the US had a quick answer – a 9-2 run that restored a 10-point lead on Tatum’s 3-pointer.
From there, it was just a matter of finishing the job. The summer started with two exhibition losses – including one to Australia – and the Olympics started with a loss to France.
None of that seemed to matter much at the end.
The mission was accomplished: Gold, again – the 16th time in 19 Olympic tries for the US
For some, it adds to family legacies. Jrue Holiday now is an Olympic gold medallist, just like his wife Lauren was twice with the US women’s national soccer team. JaVale McGee now has Olympic gold, just like his mother Pamela won with the US women in basketball at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
For Milwaukee Bucks teammates Holiday and Khris Middleton, it’s admission into a rare club: Before now, only Scottie Pippen (who did it twice), Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving had won an NBA title and Olympic gold in the same year.
And for US coach Gregg Popovich, it completes an Olympic journey that started a half-century ago.
He was playing for the United States Air Force Academy, tried unsuccessfully to make the 1972 US Olympic team.
“The powers that be actually selected Doug Collins instead of me, it’s hard to believe,” Popovich joked earlier this summer, then accepted the task of replacing Mike Krzyzewski as the US coach for this Olympic cycle.
“Being part of the Olympics has been a dream,” Popovich said.