New York’s NBA stars shine in Tokyo
With stars from across the NBA and world representing their home nations, basketball at the Tokyo Summer Olympics was a can’t-miss event that provided quality hoops and thrilling entertainment. As the USA hunted a 4th consecutive gold medal in the event, it was Nets superstar Kevin Durant who paved the way forward.
Durant wasn’t the only New York star on the court in Japan. Evan Fournier, who recently penned a 4-year deal with the Knicks played a key role for the French national team. Australian star Patty Mills also landed in NYC, signing with the Nets in free agency after 10 seasons in San Antonio. Both Fournier and Mills would get the better of Durant and Team USA in the early stages of the Olympics.
Despite easily having the strongest roster in the world, Team USA didn’t fare too well in the exhibition games. Losses to Australia and Nigeria sent fans into a frenzy, and a loss to France in the first official game didn’t make things any better. Facing sudden pressure, the US took down Iran by 60 points and the Czech Republic by 35, making it past the preliminary round.
After a quarterfinal victory over Spain, the US got their rematch with Australia, who played for a shot at their first ever medal for basketball. A win for the Aussies would not be easy against the USA, but it would guarantee them at least a silver medal.
Australia came out of the gates hungry, moving the ball around at a blur and hitting their shots. Jazz forward Joe Ingles hit two threes to open the scoring, while the US struggled to hit perimeter shots in the opening quarter.
A dazzling display by Patty Mills helped create separation, as he showed off some flashy passing and fantastic shooting from deep. In the blink of an eye, Australia held a 41-26 lead and showed no signs of slowing.
With just under four minutes left in the half, Devin Booker finally hit the first American three pointer. A 16-4 run brought the lead down to just three, but Australia held onto a 45-42 lead at the break.
In the first two minutes of the third the USA completed the comeback, taking their first lead since 2-0. After three quarters the lead was up to 19, and a 97-78 win sent the USA to the gold medal game, while Australia was forced to fight for bronze.
The opponent in the final would be France, who like Australia, remained unbeaten in the event. France narrowly survived their semifinal match against Luka Doncic and Slovenia. The youngster’s triple-double (the third in Olympic history) nearly upset the French, but a last-second block by Nic Batum sent them through to the gold medal game.
Rudy Gobert started the scoring off with a physical move inside for France, as a hard-fought contest got underway. Durant responded with a strong drive to the rim, finishing on the Jazz center. Fourneir got in on the action too, hitting a deep three to give France an early 10-4 lead.
It took a while, but after Durant hit the first American three, the shots started to fall for Team USA.
At the half the USA held a 44-39 lead. Durant led all scorers with 21 points, and Celtics star Jayson Tatum recorded a solid 11. For France, Gobert’s 13 points and Fournier’s 11 kept the game in reach.
A few former NY role players also put in solid shifts for France. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who spent two years in Brooklyn, scored 11 points in 21 minutes on the floor. Former Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina recorded 5 points in just over 10 minutes. Both shot 50% and filled in nicely on offense.
Once the USA found their groove, it was hard to stop them. The three pointers that weren’t falling earlier in the game were finally connecting, ball handling was near-immaculate, and the defensive effort made it tough for France to keep pace. The American lead grew as big as 14 in the 3rd quarter, but was never bigger than 10 in the final period.
In the final minutes, the French team made a final effort, with Fournier hitting a three to cut the lead to just six. Two free throws by Durant sealed the game, giving him a 3rd consecutive 29-point performance. Fournier and Gobert both scored 16 to lead France, though Fournier only shot 33% and 22% from the perimeter.
“It meant a lot, especially playing against this team. France is a good team and they don’t quit. They play hard every minute they’re on the floor,” said Durant postgame. “We wanted them again, just like we wanted Australia again…. And we were able to finish this game off.”
With the NBA playoffs running deep into summer, COVID cases affecting the roster, and the early defeats, winning gold felt extra special.
“We went through some real adversity,” said Durant in an interview. “We lost a game in the tournament, we lost two exhibition games. We had some unusual circumstances with COVID, guys playing in the NBA Finals and coming in late. And we just fought through everything. It’s definitely different, so I’m glad we finished the job.”
Durant’s third gold medal cements his legacy on the international stage, where he joins Carmelo Anthony as the only NBA players to win Olympic glory three times. During the Tokyo games, he surpassed Carmelo as the leading Olympic scorer and became the first Team USA player to score 100 points in three different summer games.
Durant wasn’t the only one setting records in the medal round. In the bronze medal game, Patty Mills erupted for a legendary performance. Slovenia was not an easy team to take on, even as they made their Olympic debuts.
Mills scored 42 points on a terrific 15/31 shooting performance and picked up nine assists. On the Slovenian side, Luka Doncic led scorers with 22 points, also recording eight rebounds and seven assists. It wasn’t enough to earn him and Slovenia a debut medal, as Australia celebrated a well-deserved bronze.
The 42 from Mills set an Olympic record for points in a medal round game, an emphatic finale in what’s likely the last game for Australia’s veteran core. Mills and Ingles fought for years to taste Olympic glory and finally earned it, even if it’s bronze.