While it’s pretty much expected that USA Men’s Basketball should win the Gold Medal at the Olympics, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
This year gave us a variety of different challenges to overcome that weren’t present at other times in our past. After the Olympics being postponed by a year and the NBA having a shortened offseason last year, there weren’t any assurances of the US finishing in the top spot.
Not the Dream Team
For those that can remember back to the 1992 Olympic Games, the Dream Team was the name of the group assembled to play at the Olympics. This was the first team assembled for the USA of mostly professional players. The team featured some of the biggest names in the sport and only one college player. Previously teams from the US were only made of amateurs, which meant college players and no players from the NBA.
The team that represented USA Men’s Basketball this year was void of some of the biggest names in the game. Whether out because of injuries, positive COVID-19 tests, or simply because players choose not to play, this team, while made of NBA stars, wasn’t the typical group of the absolute best players the US has to offer. Even so, the players assembled were able to fight their way to the end and finish their run with a Gold Medal.
A New Coach Takes the Reigns
For many years Team USA was coached by Mike Krzyzewski, and it seemed fairly easy for him to get the most out of the players he had. This year, a new Olympic Head Coach was named for the games, Gregg Popovich, who has been the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs for a long time. His style of basketball isn’t the same as the previous coach, but it has been a style that has won five NBA championships.
A Rough Road to Start With
Prior to the Olympics games starting, USA Men’s Basketball scheduled some exhibition games against some of the other Olympic teams. The exhibition schedule featured five games that would serve as a warmup for the team to prepare for the Olympic games. It’s safe to say the exhibition schedule didn’t go as planned, with losses to Nigeria and Australia before the team found a way to beat Argentina and Spain. A second game against Australia was canceled, leaving doubt as to whether this was the right team to represent the United States.
The Olympic Games Didn’t Start as Planned for the USA Men’s Basketball Team
In the United States, expectations of a dominant basketball team at the Olympics is a given. The rest of the world has caught up to the US, and most teams that make it out of their pools feature two or three NBA players, unlike the days of the Dream Team. Names that you know on some of the international teams tell the story of why it can be so difficult for the US to continue to dominate this sport.
France is one of the teams with several NBA players on their team and when the Games opened, this was the team that the US team faced. Unfortunately, this opening game o the Olympics didn’t go well for the United States and France came away with an 83-76 victory, leaving a serious black mark on a team that didn’t look strong in exhibition play.
Kevin Durant Emerges as the Top Olympian
The Tokyo Games was the third for Kevin Durant who quickly became the top-scoring Olympian in USA Men’s Basketball history. Durant let the way and put this team on his back with stellar scoring efforts in every game after the initial loss to France. In the Gold Medal Game, Durant scored 29 points and sealed the deal with two important free throws at the end of the game.
Toughness Prevailed in the Gold Medal Matchup
The Gold Medal Game of the Olympics featured the USA vs. France in a rematch of that opening game. France employed the same strategy that worked for them in the first game with Rudy Gobert working to draw fouls after running a high pick-and-roll. This worked successfully for much of the first quarter, which was a quarter that saw the US players miss their first eight three-pointers.
Thankfully, Durant opened up, the lane became a place of scoring, and USA Men’s Basketball showed its depth and resilience as they came out victorious, Gold Medal Winners once again.
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