With a 90-75 win over Japan in the 2020 Tokyo final at Saitama Super Arena on Saturday night, the Team USA women’s basketball team tied the 1936-68 U.S. men’s team for most consecutive Olympic gold medals in a team sport with seven.
Brittney Griner led the way with an incredible 30 points as the U.S. won its ninth gold medal in women’s basketball overall.
Griner was 14-of-18 from the field (77.8 percent) and Japan just did not have an answer for her. She added three blocks to a performance that will help define her legacy. Griner is now a two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, seven-time All-Star and former No. 1 overall pick. She sat out part of the 2020 WNBA season to focus on mental health and it’s a feel-good story to see her rise back to the top of the sport in this fashion.
Griner was really the third of the U.S.’s big three in group play, but was its second-best player in the quarterfinals against Australia and then led the way in the final two rounds.
Breanna Stewart proved it’s not all about scoring for her as she hauled in 14 rebounds, dished out five assists, swiped four steals and rejected three shots to go along with her 14 points in the gold medal game. Meanwhile, A’ja Wilson had 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and an impressive five blocks. Both kept working to keep the lead large in the second half and never let up. The frontcourt trio of Griner, Stewart and Wilson truly paved the way to gold.
With the U.S. up 40-32 at 3:31 remaining in the second quarter, Wilson blocked a Japan 3-point attempt and grabbed the ball for a breakaway. She missed the layup though, which gave Japan a 5-on-4 chance the other way. Fortunately for Team USA, Monica Okoye missed a quick three that would have cut it to five on that possession and momentum never shifted. Chelsea Gray calmed things down with a mid-range make that made it 42-32 anyway and the U.S. went on to open up its largest lead of the half at 46-32 before Japan cut it to 11 at the break.
That sequence altered the course of the game and Team USA went on to lead by as many as 24 in the third after a 21-6 run that featured seven points from Wilson (four second-chance), five points apiece from Stewart and Sue Bird and four points from Griner. The last two scores of the run came on a long pass from Stewart to Bird and then a Stewart three that made it 73-49 USA.
The United States gained its largest lead of the night (25) on a Griner lay in with 5:51 left in the fourth. Japan then fought back to cut the final margin to 15.
Bird (seven points, three assists) captured her fifth Olympic gold medal, as did Diana Taurasi, who had seven points, six rebounds and eight assists. No other players, in men’s or women’s basketball, have accomplished that feat.
DT and Sue Bird are the Olympic GOATS pic.twitter.com/V36Essl6GW— SB Nation (@SBNation) August 8, 2021
The U.S. raced out to leads of 10-2 and 18-5 before back-to-back Japan threes. Japan would make a third three that cut it to 20-14, but Jewell Loyd’s one basket of the game, a three with five seconds to go in the first, was key in giving the U.S. some breathing room.
The U.S. attempted just 13 threes compared to Japan’s 31. The U.S. made four and Japan made eight. The U.S. blocked 12 shots while Japan didn’t block any.
Sylvia Fowles picked up her fourth gold medal, while Tina Charles captured her third and Stewart registered a second. Wilson, Gray, Loyd, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Napheesa Collier and Ariel Atkins are all first-time gold medalists. Team USA head coach Dawn Staley is a first-time gold medalist as a head coach and won Olympic golds as a player in 1996, 2000 and 2004. The U.S.’s streak of seven-straight golds goes back to 1996.
Dawn Staley, the first Black head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team, has led Team USA to its seventh-consecutive gold medal— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) August 8, 2021
Team USA’s seven gold medals ties the longest gold medal streak for any Olympic team sport pic.twitter.com/GH0nQmYEd2