USA Men's Basketball Takes the Gold
Let me start by saying: U-S-A! U-S-A! Yes, that’s right, the United States once again proved we are a basketball powerhouse, a force to be reckoned with, a sort of god amongst mortal men in the sport of orange spheres.
The U.S. men’s basketball team won gold last night against France by a final score of 87-82, and in the process shut up a LOT of doubters, including ones from our own home soil. For weeks following an opening loss to this same French team, analysts and pundits galore have been decrying the horrific nature of this men’s team. They don’t have the same level of talent as past Olympics, they can’t shoot (partially true), Coach Pop needs to retire, this team can’t win the gold. Well guess what America? We freaking did it. I mean, was there ever a doubt? We (and I feel comfortable using “we” because we’re all Americans) have not failed to win gold since the 2004 Olympics in Athens when Manu Ginobli and Argentina won a shocking semifinal match. Since then, the U.S. has undoubtedly been the leader in basketball, even with the rise of so many international stars (like this year’s Finals MVP). Anyways, enough gloating, let’s try to have some actual analysis here and break down why we beat those dang Frenchmen.
Defense: Unfortunately, defense in the NBA has become something of a rarity in recent years, with regular season contests looking more and more like each season’s All Star Game. And while this version of U.S.A. basketball didn’t feature quite the same starpower as Olympics past, one thing the roster did have was a lot of defense. Draymond Green continues to be a switchable beast capable of locking down 1-5, Bam Adebayo sent a flurry of shots into the stands, and Jrue Holiday built on his excellent showcase of defense from the Finals. Holiday shut down France’s best perimeter scorer Evan Fournier, holding him to 5-15 shooting (and even those five shots were tough). Overall, Holiday’s ability to crowd the ball handler and make him uncomfortable led to a number of turnovers and stalled possessions for France. But the biggest surprise on the defensive end for the U.S. came from its leading scorer Kevin Durant. Anyone who watched KD while he was with Golden State knows he can be an elite level defender when he wants to be; heck, it’s not too difficult when you’re 6’11” and as athletic as anyone on the court. It was clear Durant was placing an emphasis on his defense last night, because we saw glimpses of greatness from him even as he was dropping buckets on the other end of the court. That tenacity was a big key for the men’s team and ultimately helped them take the gold.
Offense: While the defense was locked in from the opening tip to Zach Lavine’s post-game windmill, the offense was a different story. One of the main causes for concern with this team earlier on in these Olympics was their inability to knock down shots, especially from deep. That trend continued in the first quarter of the gold medal match, with brick after brick being thrown up by some of the best shooters in the world. However, a key turning point for the U.S. was when Nicolas Batum of the French team got into foul trouble. Batum is an excellent wing defender with great size, allowing him to contain even the best scorers on the American squad. However, when he was forced to rest with a couple of early fouls, the U.S. took advantage of some size mismatches. Durant ditched the threes in favor of his patented midrange game, rising up over helpless French defenders. Jayson Tatum was a major contributor as well, subbing into the game and promptly planting himself in the post where he dominated the smaller French guards. This focus on attacking led to a ton of easy and efficient baskets for the U.S. and in the end would prove to be a winning strategy.
But despite the gold medal, I will admit it was a rocky Olympics for our national team. They started off slow, they couldn’t shoot, some players threw Gregg Poppovich under the bus, and the losses piled up. Nevertheless, as the team played together more they grew to be a cohesive unit, rotating on defense and sharing the sugar on offense. In the end, all I can say to the director of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo is that performance was gold, Jerry, gold.