Durant & Co Drop France, Pick Up Olympic Gold
It's just the way pro sports does it:
- Preseason games mean jack,
- Regular season games mean post-season positioning, and
- Playoff games are where the cream comes to the top.
This is not to say the French national team got creamed in the Tokyo Olympics' gold-medal game from men's basketball, because they didn't.
But there's no doubting that the USA gradually got their game together through the entire process and rolled for gold as a result.
Damn right, it does.
Gregg Popovich had the unenviable task of following Mike Krzyzewski as the coach of a national team that's expected to win every tournament it enters and usually only makes headlines when it doesn't. After all, that's why Coach K took the job in the first place.
There was no 'U' in Team USA in the three international seasons prior. The Americans rag-tagged their way to dull results, culminating in the lowlight of settling for bronze in the Athens Olympics. That was the first time a roster composed of NBA pros failed to win the gold.
Krzyzewski righted that ship in short order, returning the national program to perpetual prominence and keeping it there for the rest of his reign.
Popovich had the requisite résumé to pick up the gauntlet, but that didn't mean continuing the tradition would be easy. Turned out to be anything but.
🗣️ "I think I'm gonna play for the Tune squad this summer instead of the Olympics."— SPORTbible (@sportbible) June 5, 2021
After his first-ever 1st round elimination, LeBron James has hinted he might not participate in the Tokyo Olympics 👀🤣https://t.co/SS8RQBICn1
Still, these are NBA players, and damn near any list of them were gonna face the pressure to claim top spot at the podium.
Especially with the first among equals -- Kevin Durant -- was lined up and ready for duty.
Dude lit the way for Team USA by lighting it up day after day.
Dude was a machine throughout the tournament.
There were supplemental scorers, of course, and the ultimate glue guy in Draymond Green, whose floor game was both opportune and virtually flawless.
In the grand scheme of things, it just took a while for everything to fall into place.
- Pre-Olympics losses to Nigeria and Australia caused for furrowed brows in some quarters, but Popovich kept refining his strategies and players adjusted to roles.
- It didn't help when Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday couldn't get to Tokyo until the day before the USA's first game due to their extended NBA Finals obligations. Jet lag happens.
- The tourney opener against France was a tough scheduling draw, so there was no shame in losing to Les Bleus when the full USA roster was still getting up to speed.
Admittedly, all this was a rough start.
- Spain posted a strong challenge, leading by 10 before a late American pullaway sealed a 95-81 quarterfinal victory.
- Australia's rugged brand of basketball took a hit when man-mountain Aron Baynes slipped in the loo, injured his neck, and was lost for the playoffs. Still, the Boomers built up a 15-point lead before the half, after which Popovich and his staff made the adjustments that fueled Team USA's 97-78 comeback.
Two down; one to go.
Being real, Durant's firepower was front and center yet again in the final, being as essential as it was all tourney long. Dude averaged 20.7 points per game and stepped it up to a 29-point performance in the French rematch. The key to their clinching gold, though, was a dogged defensive performance.
France kept it close with a strong effort by the Rudy Gobert, who if he woulda done better than 6-13 from the line, mighta led Les Bleus to their first-ever gold in hoops. However, full marks to the USA for forcing 18 turnovers.
Credit yet again goes to Popovich and his staff for their game prep and deployment.
Thus, the latest Team USA men's gold-medal steak has been extended to four.
So, after enduring all the slings and arrows leading up to this moment, Durant and Green took the occasion to uncork:
Nothing else to say, really. The two holdovers from the 2016 gold-winning roster in Rio de Janiero walked the walk yet again.
It was time to talk the talk. Especially those two.