Brittney Griner played very much like one of the best players on the planet Sunday, scoring 30 points to lead the U.S's women's basketball team to its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal with a 90-75 victory over host Japan at Saitama Super Arena.
U.S. veteran superstars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who made their Olympic debuts together in 2004, together passed American legends Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings and Teresa Edwards as the women's game's all-time leaders in Olympic gold medals with five.
"Couldn't have had a better ending," Bird said in a postgame interview, then nodded toward Taurasi, her longtime national team running mate. "And I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else. ... I love you, homie!"
Breanna Stewart had a terrific all-court game for the U.S. with 14 points and 14 rebounds to go with five steals, five assists and three blocked shots..
Griner's 10 first-quarter points made clear the path to gold would go through her on both ends of the floor. A 6-foot-9, two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, Griner, 30, altered a number of inside shots early, and Japan's forays into the paint grew less aggressive and frequent as the game wore on.
Up nine (23-14) after the first, the U.S. pushed its pad as high as 14 in the second quarter and hit halftime up 50-39. Japan's Motohashi Nako's 11 points helped keep things from getting out of hand before the break. Nako finished with 16, while Takada Maki led with 17 as Japan won its first Olympic medal in its women's program's history.
U.S. forward A'ja Wilson, celebrating her 25th birthday, scored 10 points in the first half to complement Griner's 18. Wilson finished with 19.
A breakaway layup from Bird, who is 40 and Sunday became the women's game's oldest Olympic gold medalist, put the winners up by more than 20 midway through the third quarter, and Japan never threatened thereafter.
The game itself even represented an history: The U.S. and Japan were the first countries in history to face each other in Olympic women's basketball, Japan winning that preliminary game at Montreal 1976. The U.S. bounced back to eventually claim silver.