This was not an easy Olympics championship for Team USA. Covid caused issues from extending the NBA season late to protocol issues. The team really didn’t get much time to gel and the exhibition games were disastrous.
Or seemed so at the time.
And the US took a smallish team that took some time to define roles and even in the closing seconds did some potentially self-destructive things.
Yet they survived. And when the final US inbounds came with :08 left and up just 85-82, the team got the ball to the right guy: Kevin Durant.
He hit the clinching free throws that gave the US, finally, a lead the French could not overcome at 87-82.
Nicolas Batum missed a three with :07 left and Jrue Holiday got the rebound and the French let the clock run out without challenging again.
It wasn’t a perfect game certainly and especially not late: the US made some very poor decisions that nearly piled pressure on themselves. Jayson Tatum ran up court with the ball and drew a charge. Holiday had a costly turnover. There were some hasty shots in the last three minutes or so.
But no one could question the effort or commitment. The US came to play and played hard. They are champions not because anyone handed it to them. They overcame an enormous amount to win this, not least of all a ton of negativity from fans and media back home.
But they did it and they deserve it. We’re happy for them and proud of them. It’s a great accomplishment, in some ways an even greater accomplishment than perhaps any US team since 1976.
We’ll have more on this later as it all sinks in but for now just a few notes...
First, we all owe Jerry Colangelo a big debt. He took over and rebuilt USA Basketball when Larry Brown left a train wreck and blamed everyone but himself in 2004.
Duke product Jayson Tatum played well, finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds. He was a bit up and down in Tokyo but when he was needed, he came through in a big way.
We’d also hope everyone takes a minute to think of Bradley Beal. This was a dream of his and Covid took it away at the last minute. We’re sure he was watching and pulling hard for the US but it must have stung some too. We wish he could have been there. Maybe he can go next time. If he’s willing and able, we hope he gets another shot at gold.
Gregg Popovich took a lot of heat with this team. Well in the end, he got it done. Thanks, coach. Well done.
And we’d also like to say how impressive the French team was. Les Bleus is very, very close to the US standard. We knew about the biggest stars - Rudy Gobert, Evan Fourtier, Batum - but didn't expect that Nando De Colo would be nearly as effective as he is at 34. He’s a superb leader for that team and honestly, it shocked us a bit to see him do as well as he did. At 34! Magnificent.
Those guys are an extraordinarily good team and while we would have been shattered to get silver, we could also have honestly said: they’re deserving. The French are very, very good.
However, like Spain and Argentina, their window may be closing a bit. Nando is 34. Batum is 32. Gobert is 29 and Fourtier is 28.
The Olympics were postponed a year - damned Covid - so we assume the next games are in 2024. At that point Nando would be 37, Batum 35, Gobert 32 and Fourtier 31. It’s been a great run for Les Bleus, but like most International teams, their core ages out.
That’s not so much the case for the US.
Grant Hill takes over for Colangelo now and in 2024 he might take Tatum, Bam Adebayo and Devin Booker again. He could conceivably take Zion Williamson. Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero could be candidates as could Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Lonzo and LaMelo Ball, Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody, Ja Morant, Patrick Williams or some guys no one really knows about yet.
It’s never going to get easier, as Colangelo said the other day. But it’s also true that no one can match the depth of US talent. No one can guarantee gold medals - a lot of people doubted we could it this time - but we’re certainly not going away.