Team USA won the gold medal in a thrilling match against Japan to confirm the result they achieved in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and become back-to-back Paralympic champions.
The journey to this medal was not easy at all, the United States did not start this competition with the most convincing performances, but they were getting the results they wanted, and the players believed in themselves and in the possibilities to really win the gold medal here in Tokyo.
The final was an exciting match to watch for every wheelchair basketball fan and not only for the countries represented. It was balanced and uncertain, and dramatic until the very last minute. Both teams had their chances to win the gold medal. But Team USA was the one that won.
In the first quarter, Japan started strong with an eight-point run. The home team was not only scoring easily but was also incredibly efficient in defense as it stopped the United States from scoring for almost four minutes in the first quarter.
However, there is a reason Team USA were the reigning champions. Once the U.S. managed to hit the first few shots, the show began, and the main character in this game was definitely co-captain Steve Serio, who finished the match with 28 points and nine assists.
“Today I was the one who was open, but a lot of it was Matt [Scott] creating shots, Brian [Bell] creating shots for me. [I am] just happy that I could do what it takes to get the job done in a team win,” Serio said.
The Americans managed to come back from the eight-point gap and, at the very last second of the quarter, Serio hit a three-pointer that allowed the team to tie the game after the first quarter.
“[Steve Serio] too made some ridiculous big shots, shots that I’m not surprised that he makes. But, it’s amazing to watch him out there doing his thing on this big stage and putting us in the spot so we can be successful,” John Boie, first-time Paralympian said.
The second quarter was more favorable to the Americans, who were able to take the lead of the match for the first time in this Paralympic final. Both Japan and Team USA played great defense but were efficient also in the offense.
“It was it was like a mirror match,” Matt Scott, five-time Paralympian and flag bearer of the closing ceremony said after the game. “It’s incredible to play against a team that kind of mirrors our style.”
The second quarter ended with the United States leading the match by five points. But Japan showed incredible focus and resilience and they fought their way back in the second half of the match.
In the third quarter, the Japanese squad outscored Team USA (13-19) and had more consistency in scoring the big shots. With only a little more than three minutes left in the third period, Japan not only tied the match but also took the lead, although they did not keep it. Steve Serio was the only American scorer in this quarter, scoring all 13 points for the United States.
In the last minutes of the third quarter, both teams took turns leading the match. Japan was looking to make history in front of their people, Team USA was showing the world who is the best team. The third quarter ended with a one-point lead for Japan.
But in the last quarter, the United States men’s wheelchair basketball team kept their patience and their goal in mind. Japan tried to increase the gap, but the US was still there, fighting against the Japanese defence. More than once, the Americans had to rush their shots as they did not have any player open enough to make an easy. But they managed to create the opportunity to shoot where it was almost impossible.
When there was only one minute and 45 seconds left in play, the United States was leading by one, 59-58. However, one key shot by Brian Bell and three free throws by Steve Serio sealed the win for the United States.
“[Steve Serio] really stepped up on the offensive,” said coach Ron Lykins.
“I don’t know how many, three or four of them that he hit the shot clock going down, if he didn’t have a shot, and he somehow created it, and getting it done.”
Steve Serio might have shined brighter than others today, but this medal is the result of years of hard work that the entire team has put into this result. And Matt Scott expressed all his compliments towards the entire team.
“You saw Steve Serio lead this team to a gold medal today. You saw Brian Bell just being a dominant force all week. Mikey Paye being the leader out there. Jake Williams being the best shooter that he is.”
“I could just keep naming the entire roster of how much they contributed from guys that played, you know, 30 minutes plus the guys that didn’t play at all. There’s so much contribution to this team and everybody contributed. Staff included.”