The United States women’s basketball team are once again Olympic champions. On Saturday night, they used another dominant performance to beat Japan, 90-75, in the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics. This is the seventh straight gold medal for Team USA, which is tied for the longest streak in team sport history, and their Olympics winning streak is now up to 55 games.
Team USA had a huge size advantage in this game, and made sure to use it early and often. Brittney Griner led the way with 30 points, five rebounds and three blocks, while A’ja Wilson added 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five blocks of her own. As a team, the Americans scored 58 points in the paint, and blocked 12 shots. Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, the two veterans of this team, made some history of their own by becoming the first players — men or women — to win five Olympic gold medals.
While Japan didn’t get the result they were hoping for in this game, they take home the silver medal after a brilliant run in this tournament. This was just their fifth appearance at the Olympics, and prior to this year they had never finished better than fifth. Winning a medal for the first time is always going to be special, but doing it as the host country is even better.
Here are four key takeaways from the game:
1. The dynasty continues
The United States women’s basketball team is one of the most dominant dynasties in the history of sports, and they extended their reign with a seventh straight gold medal in Tokyo. That tied the United States men’s basketball team (1936-1968) for the longest gold medal streak in team sport history. In Paris in 2024, they’ll have a chance to take the record for themselves, and based on how this summer went, they’ll be heavy favorites once again.
While seven straight golds are impressive enough, the Americans have done it without losing a single game. The win over Japan extended their Olympics winning streak to a remarkable 55 straight games. When they last lost at the Olympics in the semifinals in 1992, six of the players on this current team hadn’t even been born yet.
You can rattle off all sorts of stats about the run, but here’s maybe the most ridiculous: they’ve won 53 of the 55 games by double digits. They have the same number of single-digit wins (two) as 60-point wins (two).
2. Taurasi and Bird make history
The biggest story is obviously from a team perspective, and for good reason. But this was also a history-making performance for two Team USA legends: Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. With the win over Japan, that duo became the first basketball players — man or woman — to win five Olympic gold medals.
Bird, now 40 years old, was playing in her final Olympics. She went out in style, as she became the oldest basketball player to win a gold medal in Olympic history. Taurasi, perhaps jokingly, said after the game, “see you in Paris.” Whether she’ll be able to play in 2024 obviously remains to be seen, but if this was it for her it was a great way to go out as well. She finished with seven points, six rebounds and eight assists.
3. Griner and Wilson dominate inside
Team USA has a size advantage against just about every other team, but it is especially pronounced against Japan. The average height of the Japanese starting lineup in this game was just 5-foot-9, and they don’t have a single player over 6-foot-1 on the roster.
That’s obviously a huge problem against an American team boasting the best frontcourt in the world. As expected, Team USA went inside early and often, and Japan had absolutely no answer. Brittney Griner (30 points) and A’ja Wilson (19 points) combined for 49 of Team USA’s 90 points, and added a combined 12 rebounds and eight blocks. Griner’s shot chart, in particular, is almost comical.
As a team, the Americans only made eight shots outside of the paint all game long, and won the points in the paint battle 58-40. They also blocked 12 shots and outrebound Japan 44-38.
4. Japan gets its first medal
The Japanese women’s basketball team has been a force in Asia for decades but has not had much success on the global stage. This was just their fifth appearance at the Olympics, and prior to this year they had never finished higher than fifth in 1976 — and even that is a little misleading considering there were only six teams in the tournament that year.
Coming into this tournament, they were once again not expected to be among the medals, especially with star forward Ramu Tokashiki out injured. In fact, coming into the final game of the group stage, it wasn’t even a guarantee that they would advance to the knockout round. But they took care of business against Nigeria, which set up a remarkable run.
First, they stunned Belgium in the quarterfinals thanks to a game-winning 3-pointer by Saki Hayashi in the closing seconds. That set up a semifinal showdown with France, who they had already beaten in the group stage. The second meeting was not as interesting as the first, and Japan cruised to a 16-point win thanks to some strong 3-point shooting.
While the dream run came to an end against Team USA on Saturday, Japan still earned the silver medal. It’s the first Olympic medal the country has ever won in basketball, and to do it at home only makes it more special.
Courtesy: CBS Sports