Team USA men's basketball defeated France, 87-82, in the Gold Medal Game in Tokyo on Saturday, marking its fourth consecutive gold in Olympic competition.
The Americans were led by Nets star Kevin Durant, who paced the team with 29 points, on 9-of-18 shooting from the floor, along with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a block.
The gold capped a trying Olympics for Team USA, which overcame some last-minute roster upheaval due virus protocols, as well as a loss to this very French team earlier in the tournament.
The Americans said they were proud to have overcome adversity and prove their critics wrong.
"This is one of those special journeys," Durant said. "When you're a part of a team that's evolving by the second, it's amazing to see. Each game we continued to grow. I'm grateful we all committed to it, we stuck with it, and we finished it off."
Forward Draymond Green, who won an NBA title with Durant in Golden State, echoed a similar sentiment.
“Everybody was questioning us,” Green said. “This is special.”
It was a nip-and-tuck game throughout, though the Americans outscored France in all but the final period. Team USA took a modest 5-point lead into halftime, and extended their advantage to 8 points by the end of the third quarter.
Durant scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half, once again leading the charge for a team that at times throughout the tournament appeared disjointed. France looked to use its decisive size advantage -- led by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert -- to stymy the Americans' offensive attack, but it was unable to contain Durant early.
Fittingly, Durant iced the game by sinking a pair of free throws with under 10 seconds remaining. The career 88% free-throw shooter finished 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Durant, an 11-time NBA All-Star, has played with Team USA for three of their four consecutive golds. There were no holdovers from the 2008 gold-medal-winning team in Beijing.
As time expired, Team USA gathered at half court for hugs, handshakes, and draped themselves in the American flag.
Head coach Gregg Popovich seemed relieved to have continued the team's run of excellence in international play.
“Every championship is special, and the group you’re with is special, but I can be honest and say this is the most responsibility I’ve ever felt,” he said. “You’re playing for so many people that are watching, and for a country, and other countries involved. The responsibility was awesome. I felt it every day for several years now. I’m feeling pretty light now and looking forward to getting back to the hotel.”
Guard Damian Lillard struck a similar note.
“I think it’s more joy than relief, but definitely some relief,” Lillard said. “Because of the expectations that get placed on Team USA, obviously it’s going to be some relief.”
Team France, which has taken silver in three of the last four Olympics won by the US, was gracious in defeat.
“They played better,” said guard Evan Fournier, who shared a postgame hug with Popovich. “They played better.”
In the Bronze Medal Game, set for later on Saturday, Slovenia was set to take on Australia.