The gold-medal wheelchair basketball match saw powerhouse Team USA take on Team Netherlands in the final competition of the 2017 Invictus Games. With Prince Harry and former US vice-president Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, looking on (and perhaps rooting for Team USA!), it was sure to be a fast-paced game.
The crowd roared as the Dutch picked up the first points of the match, with the US scoring in response on their next possession of the ball.
American Matt Grashen electrified the crowd with an end-to-end rush from an outlet pass by Anthony McDaniel. The game tied at 11 points with 7 minutes and 41 seconds left in the first half.
Frantic end-to-end action saw the two teams trade baskets from the floor, with the US team leading. A fast break by Team Netherlands Marc van de Kuilen resulted in a basket by Walter Groen, and the Americans amped up their offense to keep their lead at 4.
With 3.7 seconds left in the half, van de Kuilen went back to the line and made 1 of 2 throws, leaving the Dutch down 18–19 at the half.
Joe and Jill Biden granted a half-time interview to cheers from the crowd. He took the opportunity to remind the fans of the sacrifice made by the players and their ongoing need for medical help. “We owe them,” Biden said.
The second half started fast, with a US basket followed by a Dutch three-pointer, knotting up the score at 21. Anthony Pone and Grashen pulled the US to a six-point lead seven minutes into the half as the Dutch struggled to keep pace.
Van de Kuilen executed another three-pointer to cut the lead to 37–34. The Americans started to follow him to his office — the left corner of the offensive court where he did his habitual spin — and he found himself in a double-team. On his next rush, he rolled slowly to the top of the circle and released the ball in time to put three more points on the board for the Dutch. The US called a timeout with 3:44 remaining in the half, their lead cut to 41–39, and perhaps sensing an unfavourable shift in momentum.
The Dutch tied the game, the Americans took their lead back, and the Dutch went to the line on the ensuing possession. Trading baskets and stifling defense, punch and counterpunch, Team USA’s McDaniel grabbed the first three-pointer with less than a minute left to play. With 16.8 seconds left, it was US 52, Netherlands 51. US received free throws, and McDaniel sank both to put Team USA in the lead, and the Netherlands called timeout. The crowd was out of their seats.
Van de Kuilen’s attempt for a three-pointer in the final seconds of the game failed him. Pone went to the line for the US and made for a final basket, sealing the win and the gold medal. Final score: USA 55, Netherlands 51.
Following the game, McDaniel, who scored the three-pointer, said, “My performance on my own was only great at the end. In the beginning, I had a few mistakes that I needed to clean up and my team held my back the first half. I have to give a lot of credit to them for keeping it how close it was in the first half.”
On the final minutes of the game he said, “Normally if the game is out of reach, we run the clock down at the end. [Dutch player Marc van de Kuillen] wanted to get the ball across half court and then we hugged it out. I just told him good game because he made me step my game up. If not, they definitely would have taken the win because he was on fire. Big shout out to the Netherlands because they played a great game. Much respect to those guys. The game was phenomenal.”
At the end of the match, in an act of camaraderie, McDaniel exchanged his jersey with a player from Netherlands.
It was an exciting and uplifting end to a week of outstanding competition at the 2017 Invictus Games. Congrats to all the nations!