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'Captain America' keeps gold with U.S.

United States' Kevin Durant chases the ball during men's basketball gold medal game against France Saturday in Saitama, Japan.Associated Press

SAITAMA, Japan — With the gold medal in jeopardy, the U.S. knew where to turn to protect it.

It could only be Captain America.

Even before he was wrapped up in a flag that looked like a cape, Kevin Durant played the part of a hero for the U.S. basketball team — again. And if the French wanted to leave with the gold medal, they were going to have to take it from his grip.

“He’s the guy who’s cool under pressure,” U.S. assistant coach Steve Kerr said. “He hits the big shots.”

That’s what Durant did to close out the gold-medal game Saturday. With a three-point lead and under 10 seconds remaining, the Americans passed it in to Durant, who was fouled and calmly sank the two free throws with 8.8 seconds remaining for the final points in an 87-82 victory.

Durant finished with 29 points, just off the 30 he scored in the last two Olympic gold-medal games. The four-time NBA scoring champion is in the discussion as the best player in the league.

As for the best player in Olympic basketball, that debate seems to have ended in Japan.

“That’s a special, special man, and he carried this team like we needed him to, like he’s supposed to coming back for his third Olympics, all-time USA scorer,” said U.S. forward Draymond Green, Durant’s former teammate in Golden State. “There’s been a lot of great players to don this jersey, and he’s No. 1 and that’s a special thing.”

Durant, who passed Carmelo Anthony earlier in the Olympics to become the leading scorer in U.S. men’s history, joined Anthony as the only three-time gold medalists in men’s basketball.

Durant couldn’t choose which Olympics is the most special, because to him they all are.

“I’m just happy to be here,” he said. “I’m happy to be part of this group for life.”

It might have been a group of silver medalists without Durant’s greatness. Unlike his last two Olympics, when he played with Anthony and other experienced superstars, this was a team filled with international rookies, a team with a roster that wasn’t set until shortly before the tournament.

While Durant could largely focus on being a scorer in his previous Olympics, the Americans needed him to be their leader this time. He showed his teammates what it took.