The clock struck midnight on Japan’s Cinderella run to the women’s basketball final at the Tokyo Olympics.
That’s what tends to happen when teams go looking for fairy-tale endings against the United States women’s basketball team.
Brittney Griner was a dominant force for the U.S., scoring 30 points to help the Americans capture their seventh straight gold medal with a 90-75 win over Japan at Saitama Super Arena on Sunday.
“Credit to my teammates,” Griner said. “They got me the ball, they made some passes, they believed in me. And the coaching staff for leaving me out there. I have to just give credit to everybody else, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The United States reaffirmed its place as the dominant nation in the sport with its 55th consecutive victory in Olympic competition.
The U.S. won three basketball medals during the Olympics. The American men’s team, many of whom were in attendance on Sunday, won the gold medal on Saturday and the U.S. women’s 3×3 team also won gold.
“I’m happy, that’s it,” U.S. guard Sue Bird said. “I’m so happy for everyone on our team for everyone involved.”
Japan’s consolation prize was a silver medal, its best-ever Olympic performance.
“The fact we lost is difficult, but being able to win this silver medal as a team is something that makes me happy,” Japan guard Rui Machida said. “The U.S team was very quick to adjust to our style and we were not able to play the type of basketball we are good at in some parts.”
The Japanese women earned the nation’s first Olympic basketball medal (for men or women) and are the first Asian team to reach the podium in women’s basketball since China in 1992.
Rather than wallowing in defeat, the Japanese players chose to instead celebrate their run to the final. There were smiles instead of tears as they high-fived, hugged and posed for photos on the court.
“The journey that we’ve been on as a team has been long — some peaks and valleys along the way,” head coach Tom Hovasse said. “But seeing the players with the silver medal and the look of pride on their faces was worth everything. Very happy for Japan basketball, the players, the staff. I’m sure this is going to sink in more in a couple of days.”
Japan kept the game competitive in the teams’ first meeting, an 86-69 U.S. win during the preliminary round. The Akatsuki Five bounced back from that loss by blowing out Nigeria and then beating Belgium on a late 3-pointer in the quarterfinals. An 87-71 win over France in the semifinals set up a second chance against the Americans.
“We knew that Japan wasn’t messing around,” U.S. guard Diana Taurasi said. “We watched every single game and we had the utmost respect for that team.”
The U.S. was ready for Japan and its style of play this time, dominating the gold medal contest from start to finish.
“They just test you for 40 minutes,” Bird said. “There is no let up with them and it’s very difficult. So kudos to them. They’re tough to play against and really fun to watch.”
American A’ja Wilson scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds as she helped bring home a gold medal on her birthday. Breanna Stewart posted a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Japan captain Maki Takada led her team with 17 points and sharp-shooting Nako Motohashi scored 16 while making four of her five 3-point attempts.
Machida, who set an Olympic record with 18 assists against France, only had six in the gold medal game and scored eight points.
Bird and Taurasi became the first players to win five gold medals in a team sport at the Olympics. Bird, who at 40 years and 296 days old is the first person over 40 to win a basketball gold, said she won’t be going for a sixth.
“This is my last one,” Bird said.
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