For as long as he can remember, Jayson Tatum has fantasized about winning an Olympic gold medal for the Red, White, and Blue. On Saturday morning in Tokyo, his lifelong dream came true.
The United States men’s basketball team danced past France, 87-82, for its 16th first-place finish in the Olympic Games.
Kevin Durant led the charge with a game-high 29-point performance, and Tatum – the youngest member of Team USA – finished second on the squad with 19 points to go along with a team-leading seven rebounds. The 23-year-old wing was also the most efficient shooter of the matchup, as he finished 8-of-14 from the field, including a game-best 3-of-5 from 3-point range, en route to becoming the first Celtics player to win Olympic gold since Larry Bird in 1992.
It was a slow start for the Americans, as they fell behind 10-4 out of the gate while missing their first eight 3-point attempts. However, Durant kept the team afloat by scoring 12 of its first 18 points in the opening frame.
Tatum checked in off the bench late in the first quarter and quickly got his name into the scoring column. He knocked down a 3-pointer for the final points of the period to give the USA a 22-18 lead, and then dropped in a fadeaway jumper on the first possession of the second quarter to push its lead up to six.
JT remained on fire throughout the second quarter, as he also made a pair of layups along with another jumper. He finished the first half with 11 points, helping to guide Team USA into the break with a 44-39 lead.
Tatum scored five more points in the third quarter, including two on a fast-break dunk that gave the USA its biggest lead of the game at 71-57. However, France then went on a 13-2 run, cutting its deficit down to three points with 5:44 remaining in the final frame.
The Americans then began to pull away again, as they went on a 9-2 run that was capped off by another Tatum 3-pointer.
However, France remained resilient, hacking away at the USA’s double-digit lead until it was a three-point ball game again with just 10 seconds remaining.
For a moment, it looked like the French had a chance to pull off another upset victory over the heavily favored USA, just as they had done in the Group Stage round. However, their fate was sealed just two seconds later after fouling Durant on the ensuing inbounds pass. The three-time gold medalist confidently walked to the free-throw line and sunk both of his attempts, which all but clinched the victory for the Americans.
The final buzzer sounded eight seconds later, prompting Tatum to let out a scream of joy before sharing an embrace with new Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, who was serving as a Team USA assistant. The young superstar played every bit the part in his first Olympic journey, and it all became worth it at that moment.
“It’s an incredible feeling. Something you always dream about,” Tatum told NBC after the game while surrounded by many of his former idols who have now become teammates. “I remember being in high school watching these guys win a gold medal. And to play alongside them and win one in a climate like this, everything that we went through, not being able to bring our family – I know (my son) Deuce is watching. So this is an amazing feeling.”
It’s a feeling that Tatum has waited his whole life to experience. And at just 23 years old, it surely won’t be his last opportunity to do so.
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