US wins women's hoops gold in Bird's final Olympics

Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird walked together off the court of basketball, arm in arm, one final time at the Tokyo Games.

US wins women's hoops gold in Bird's final Olympics

They began their journey together five Olympics back and finished it in the same way as ever -- with gold medals around their necks.

"All of the things we have done for USA Basketball, it's all done together. After Sunday's win over Japan, Bird stated that it was fitting.

It's over, at least for the Bird of 40 years.

Bird stated, "College is the best comparison because you know it's at the end." My senior year was a memorable one. I remember feeling great and having a great taste of my food. USA Basketball is the same.

Taurasi and she have won nothing on the international stage. Now, the pair is the only ones with five gold medals.

Taurasi stated, "It's twenty years and people only have the chance to see these moments." We're always on these trips together. Every conversation. This means a lot.

Bird has decided to retire from international basketball. Taurasi, however, left the possibility open in her interview after the game that she would play in Paris in 2024.

She said that she isn't certain she will play but would like to see.

Bird took a quick jab to her friend, who was 39 years old, for even considering it.

Bird laughed while speaking with The Associated Press and standing next to Taurasi.

The U.S. now holds the record for most consecutive Olympic gold medals, with seven. It was achieved by the men between 1936 and 1968.

Bird has been instrumental in coordinating the flow of games and Taurasi's scoring. They have been a steady force for the U.S. since the 2004 Athens Games, providing stability for women's programs. They have won every 38 Olympic games they have competed in.

Although the names of the couple have changed, such greats as Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Sylvia Fowles have not seen any significant changes to their results.

American are currently on a 55-game winning streak in the Olympics, dating back to 1992 Barcelona Games' bronze medal game.

Japan was made aware by the U.S. that they were not changing their stance on Sunday.

Brittney Griner's dominant quarter in the first quarter helped Americans jump to an 18-5 lead. After one, the team led 23-14. Griner scored 10 points to take advantage of the smaller Japanese team. Japan managed to pull within six points in the second quarter, but the Americans led 11 at halftime.

Bird and Taurasi hugged their coaches and teammates as the buzzer went off.

Griner was the winner with 30 points. She made 14 of her 18 shots. This was the highest number of points by an American player in a gold-medal game. It surpasses the 29 scored by Leslie in 1996.

While Bird has said she is moving on, the future is bright for the U.S. behind Griner, Breanna Stewart and the six newcomers on this year's team. A'ja Wilson was one of them, and she will continue the streak at the 2024 Paris Games. Wilson, who turned 25 on Sunday, was a force to be reckoned with in her Olympic debut scoring 19 points in gold medal games.

There were also other landmarks to note on Sunday, aside from Bird's farewell.

The victory also made Dawn Staley, the first Black women's basketball coach for the U.S., the second woman to win a gold medal as a player, assistant and head coach joining Anne Donovan. Staley stated after the game that she will not return to Paris as a coach.

Staley stated that being part of six Olympics was enough for her. "I'm full."

The game also marked the end of Carol Callan's run as the national team director. She was the architect of this remarkable run, starting right before the Americans won their first gold streak in 1996.

Japan won the medal for the first-ever time in its history. It was the only team of 11 to beat the U.S. in an Olympics. Prior to Sunday, the team was fifth.

The host nation has been on the rise since it hired coach Tom Hovasse. When he was hired, he said that his team would play against the U.S. to win the Tokyo Games gold -- and they would beat him.

He was only half right.

After trailing by two at the end of the first quarter, the U.S. prevailed by 17 points. Just like that game, the Americans used their dominant post advantage to control the title game. Japan's tallest player was 6 feet-1. Griner, who stands 6-9, is the formidable front line.

While the general public and family members couldn't attend the games because of the coronavirus pandemic, Bird did have fiancee Megan Rapinoe in the stands cheering her on. After the game, Bird came over to embrace Rapinoe. She scored two goals for the U.S. women’s soccer team to win a bronze medal earlier in the week.

Many Japanese volunteers sat in the Saitama Super Arena and applauded their team. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no cheering was permitted.

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