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SAITAMA, Japan — It was not always pretty, but in the end, the United States men’s basketball team ascended to the heights they were always expected to reach. Overcoming a slow start to the Olympic tournament, the Americans dispatched France, 87-82, with relative comfort in the final game on Saturday morning at Saitama Super Arena to win their 16th gold medal in the event.
In front of a sizable crowd — not of fans, but of national team staff, Olympic volunteers and journalists — the United States looked far more cohesive and confident than when they lost to France in the opening game of competition.
That contest had exposed some of their early issues as a team — namely, a lack of familiarity as a group. But they had none of those problems on Saturday morning.
“It’s more joy than relief, but definitely some relief because of the expectation that gets placed on Team U.S.A.,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with 11 points and three assists and had some timely highlights in the second half. He added: “Finally getting there, pulling the gold medal game out, its like, you almost kind of exhale.”
Kevin Durant, once again, was the focal point and main driving force of the team, scoring 29 points to go with six rebounds. Jayson Tatum contributed a strong performance of his own, finishing with 19 points.
“He’s the best scorer in basketball,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 16 points and eight rebounds for France before fouling out in the last moments of the game while trying to stop Durant. “He’s going to do what he does, especially on the biggest stage like the Olympic Games.”
The Americans built an 8-point lead heading into the final quarter and withstood a number of runs from the French to close the game. France cut the lead to 85-82 with 10.2 seconds remaining, giving them a glimmer of hope. But Durant sank two free throws to effectively seal the result.
“That was the first time we really played together,” said Jrue Holiday, who won an N.B.A. championship with the Milwaukee Bucks before joining the U.S. team in Tokyo. Of France, he added: “Being able to meet them again, to meet them in the gold medal game, was great for us.”