The U.S. men’s basketball team clinched their third consecutive Olympic gold medal on Sunday, but only after a tougher-than-expected 85-75 victory over France who with four minutes left trailed by only four points.
The Americans, who now have taken 12 of 14 Olympic titles, were heavily favored to retain the title given their abundance of talent spread out among 12 of the NBA’s top players.
But France, just as Lithuania did in the semifinals, had other ideas and forced the game down to the wire.
“I told you we were going to do it,” said Toronto Raptor forward Vince Carter as the team, many of whom wore gold shoes for the game, celebrated victory.
The win leaves the U.S. with a 109-2 record in Olympic play, but with four of their closest games since 1992, the team has been roundly criticized for lacking the passion and talent of its predecessors.
The Americans were coming off a narrow two-point semifinal victory over Lithuania — who took bronze with an 89-71 win over Australia — and hoped to silence their critics by taking the play straight to the French.
France scored the opening basket but trailed
the rest of the way as the U.S. built up a 14-point halftime lead.
“My team only understood at halftime that this really is an Olympics final. For us the game began at halftime,” said French coach Jean Pierre di Vincenzi, who as expected retired following the match. Rhythm lost The U.S. lost their rhythm in the second half and France finally came to life, clawing their way back to within eight points with 10 minutes to play.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Ray Allen then hit a pair of three-pointers and a layup to steal back the momentum.
But the French were not about to give up and once again took a run at the collection of NBA stars.
“I think the U.S. were surprised by the way teams played and the quality of the players elsewhere in the world,” said French center Henry Crawford Palmer.
Antoine Rigaudeau, who had been anonymous for most of the game hitting only one field goal in the first half, grabbed his first three-point shot of the game with 402 to play to bring France to within four points at 76-72.
But Minnesota Timberwolves all-star Kevin Garnett then knocked down a pair of baskets and Vince Carter, who along with Allen led the U.S. with 13 points, had two thunderous dunks to ensure France took their second ever basketball silver — and nothing more.