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Saturday, August 07, 2021

Team USA Avenges Early Loss to France, Claims Fourth Straight Olympic Gold Medal

Team USA started slowly in the gold medal game versus France and then sputtered down the stretch but did just enough in between to post an 87-82 victory in the 2020 Olympics (being held in 2021) to claim a fourth straight Olympic gold medal. Kevin Durant scored a game-high 29 points on 9-18 field goal shooting in 35 minutes after scoring 30 points in Olympic gold medal game wins in 2012 and 2016. Jayson Tatum added 19 points on 8-14 field goal shooting plus a team-high seven rebounds. Jrue Holiday had 11 points on 5-13 field goal shooting while also grabbing five rebounds and playing his trademark stout defense. Damian Lillard was Team USA's only other double figure scorer with 11 points on 4-11 field goal shooting, but the only Team USA players with negative plus/minus numbers in this game were Lillard (-4) and Devin Booker (-8; he finished with 2 points on 0-4 field goal shooting in 22 minutes).

Rudy Gobert led France with 16 points on 5-5 field goal shooting and a game-high eight rebounds, while Evan Fournier also scored 16 points, but he shot just 5-15 from the field. During some stretches, Gobert was the best and most dominant player on the court, but his overall effectiveness was limited by his poor free throw shooting (6-13) and France's propensity to turn the ball over before even having a chance to feed him the ball deep in the paint. Gobert was one of three French starters who had a positive plus/minus number.

Team USA shot just 9-32 (.281) from three point range, but--as is usually the case for Team USA in FIBA play--what mattered is that Team USA held France to 10-31 (.323) three point shooting without giving up too much in the paint. Team USA forced 18 turnovers while only committing nine turnovers, and Team USA only lost the rebounding battle 41-34 despite France having a bigger team.

France defeated Team USA 83-76 in Team USA's opening game of this year's Olympics and France fought Team USA hard from opening tip to final buzzer in the gold medal game. Team USA forced a turnover on France's first possession but then gave up deep post position and an easy dunk to Gobert on France's second possession. France led 10-4 after Fournier made a three pointer. France attacked effectively in the paint, but had a few careless turnovers. Team USA looked sluggish at both ends of the court, which has been a consistent first quarter problem throughout the Olympics. The one saving grace for Team USA was Durant, who singlehandedly wiped out France's early advantage, and carried Team USA to a 22-18 lead by the end of the first quarter. Durant had 12 points on 4-7 field goal shooting while his teammates had combined for 10 points on 4-12 field goal shooting. Team USA shot just 2-11 (.182) from three point range but--more importantly--held France to 2-7 (.286) three point shooting without being dominated inside.

Team USA pushed their advantage to 39-26 in the second quarter, but only led 44-39 at halftime, with Durant pouring in 21 first half points on 7-14 field goal shooting. Tatum (11 points on 5-9 field goal shooting) was the only other Team USA player who reached double figures in scoring in the first half. Gobert paced France with 13 points on 4-4 field goal shooting, plus seven rebounds. Fournier added 11 points on 3-7 field goal shooting. France committed 10 turnovers, while Team USA went most of the half error free before finishing with two turnovers. France outshot Team USA from the field .462 to .432 and outrebounded Team USA 23-14 but Team USA had 11 more field goal attempts and Team USA took advantage of those extra opportunities. 

Throughout the Olympics, Team USA played very well in the third quarter and it seemed like this game would be no exception when Team USA expanded the margin to 71-57 at the 1:18 mark, but France closed the quarter with a 6-0 run to stay in contact heading into the final stanza. France shot 6-15 (.400) from three point range in the third quarter, as Team USA tilted their defense to the paint to stop Gobert from rolling to the hoop for dunks and/or free throw attempts after drawing fouls against smaller defenders who switched on to him.

France outscored Team USA 19-16 in the fourth quarter, and came within a few bounces of pulling off the upset. Team USA led 82-72 with 3:25 remaining after Tatum drilled a three pointer, but France kept clawing away, cutting the margin to 85-80 with :18 left after Lillard missed two free throws and Frank Ntilikina dunked. Holiday then threw a careless inbounds pass that Nic Batum stole, giving Ntilikina an opportunity to pull France within two points, but Ntilikina missed a three point shot. Nando de Colo grabbed the rebound, drew a foul on Draymond Green and canned two free throws. Team USA now had to inbound the ball successfully and make at least one free throw. Fittingly, Durant made two free throws to ice the game, averting a collapse that would have been eerily similar to--but much more devastating than--Team USA's stumbling finish versus France in the previous game between these teams.

It is difficult to compare Olympic performances from different eras against different levels of competition played under different rules, but there is little doubt that by any meaningful evaluation Durant is one of the best men's basketball players in Team USA history. He has repeatedly proven to be a clutch scorer, a very good rebounder, a solid playmaker, and even at times a defensive presence as a rim protector. This team would not have won a gold medal--and might not have won a medal at all--without Durant's high level play.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:16 AM



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