Team USA secured a fourth straight Olympic gold medal as they beat France 87-82 in Tokyo.
It was the second time the two teams had met in the competition, with France having inflicted the USA’s first Games loss since 2004 in the group stage.
However, Gregg Popovich’s favourites, who under-performed in the build-up, hit their stride when it mattered most.
Kevin Durant was the USA’s standout player yet again, scoring 29 points.
France made a late, fourth-quarter run, but came up just short as the US made their shots at crucial moments to claim a seventh gold medal out of the last eight on offer.
“The first time we played together as a whole roster was France [in the group] and lost to them,” said Jrue Holiday. “So we just felt like it was only right to meet them in gold and to get our win back.”
USA far from convincing
Team USA’s preparations for the Olympics got off to the worst possible start with surprising losses against Nigeria and Australia in warm-up matches.
Back-to-back victories against Argentina and Spain seemingly put them on the right path, but they looked shaky in the opening game as France ended their 25-game winning streak in Olympic basketball.
While they bounced back with comfortable wins over Iran and the Czech Republic, the USA’s problems were far from over.
During their quarter-final against Australia, they found themselves down by 15 in the first half before they managed to put a run together and take a 30-point lead.
It was another slow start against France in the final as they struggled to deal with Rudy Gobert’s size and physicality in defence.
On offence they were cold, struggling to make open shots, and Gobert’s presence around the basket made it hard for the Americans to score inside.
Popovich’s team eventually took command, but could never really pull away from their opponents as Nando de Colo made it a three-point game with 10 seconds left.
But the final free throws would fittingly fall to Durant, who made both to put the game beyond France’s reach.
Dominant Durant leads by example
Despite failing to live up to their billing, one player who consistently shone for Team USA was Brooklyn Nets star Durant.
The 32-year-old led by example throughout the tournament and scored 23 points in their final group game against the Czech Republic to surpass Carmelo Anthony as Team USA’s all-time leading scorer.
In the knockout phase, Durant averaged 27 points per game in wins over Australia, Spain and France as he claimed a third personal gold medal after being part of triumphs in 2012 and 2016.
He said: “You realise, you know, you finished the job, you get the gold medal, you get the trophy, but when you go through that journey, it’s just incredible to be a part of something so special. I’m bonded to these guys for life.”