Kurt Helin

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On guard: US team locking down on defense for Rio gold

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — “Go get him!”

Tom Thibodeau’s booming, baritone voice knifed through the air inside sold out Carioca Arena on Saturday as the U.S. team dropped back to play defense early in its Olympic tournament opener against China.

“Stay home!” he barked. “Back, back!” “Get up!” “By yourself!”

Thibodeau didn’t stop, and his commands could even be heard by fans sitting in top rows of the upper deck.

From the opening tip to the final horn in the 119-62 blowout, Thibodeau, a hard-driving, hoops lifer who prides himself on teaching the old-school way, screamed instructions at the American players. They have quickly learned that their Team USA assistant coach – and the new head man with the Minnesota Timberwolves – is demanding when it comes to defense.

“I’m used to Thibs, man,” U.S. center DeMarcus Cousins said with a laugh. “That’s Thibs in walkthrough, so we’re used to it.”

And the rest of the world better get used to this U.S. team playing lock-down defense. Armed with unmatched offensive firepower, the Americans, seeking their third straight gold medal, are creating an identity with their backs to the basket.

“We get after it on that side of the ball,” said forward Draymond Green.

They got after China from the outset. Warriors forward Klay Thompson, one of the game’s elite perimeter defenders, made a steal on China’s first possession and the U.S. finished with 15 steals, forced 24 turnovers and held China to 30 percent shooting.

With another roster of NBA stars, there is a continuous red-white-and-blue wave of players flooding in from coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bench. When the U.S. starters needed a break against China, Krzyzewski sent in a fresh group and Thibodeau made sure they knew what they were doing defensively from the moment they stepped on the floor.

From his seat next to Coach K’s, Thibodeau pointed like a traffic cop at a busy intersection, and of course, made certain his demands were heard.

“Thibs is going to lose his voice by the time this is over with,” four-time Olympian Carmelo Anthony said. “I think everybody in the world can hear Thibs on the sideline. It’s motivation for us, to know that we have somebody on the sideline that’s in tune to it. He’s pushing us and he’s keeping us uplifted.”

The U.S. plays its next game on Monday against Venezuela, a team it beat by 35 last week despite a poor shooting performance.

Thibodeau, fired in May by the Chicago Bulls after five solid seasons, is relishing his role as the U.S. squad’s minister of defense. This is what he lives for, and the chance to mesh a group this talented to play team defense is as good as it gets.

And it’s already apparent that Thibodeau’s message has gotten across as the U.S. players, some of whom are not exactly known for their defensive skills, are being more vocal on the floor. During the win over China, the Americans were calling out screens, switching and looking to help each other whenever possible. They’ve clearly bought in.

During the first quarter against China, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving poked the ball away before diving headfirst on the floor trying to come up with the steal. As he laid face down, Thibodeau clapped in approval.

Floor burns are a badge of honor to Thibodeau, who feels the U.S. team is embracing his principles.

“The strength is our versatility,” he said. “We have 12 guys who play hard and play for each other and they are committed to doing that. It started the first day and there’s no let up so when we go to our bench there’s is no drop off. Every one of these guys is a great player and is s starter, so when we sub that pressure is going to remain and we’re going to keep coming for 40 minutes.”

Kevin Durant, who along with Anthony is the only returning player from the 2012 London team, said he and his teammates know that when the shots aren’t falling, they can always fall back on their defense.

“Defensively, we’re pretty good,” he said. “When we put Draymond out there and just start switching everything, that makes us even better and then we got two guys that are different rim protectors in Marcus, who takes charges and covers the paint, and DJ (DeAndre Jordan) who blocks shots at the rim. We just got every area covered. And we got long defenders on the wing and great point guards that use their hands, so we got to continue to lean on that.”

Thibodeau will make sure of it.

Croatia upsets Spain 72-70 as Dario Saric blocks Pau Gasol’s last shot

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Dario Saric blocked Pau Gasol‘s shot just before time expired, preserving Croatia’s 72-70 upset of Spain in an Olympic men’s basketball Sunday night.

Croatia scored seven straight points to take the lead down the stretch, then held on when Saric, who was still limping a bit after banging his leg on a pick shortly before the play, rose high to block Gasol’s shot under the basket.

Bojan Bogdanovic of the Brooklyn Nets scored 23 points for the Croatians, who got the tiebreaking basket from Krunoslav Simon with about 1 1/2 minutes left. Saric, the former lottery pick bound for the Philadelphia 76ers, have five points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Gasol had 26 points for Spain, the silver medalists in the last two Olympics, while Nikola Mirotic added 19.

Kyle Lowry’s ode of appreciation for DeMar DeRozan

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As part of the recent players’ union awards, Kyle Lowry was voted best teammate on the Raptors.

Now you can see why. He is in Rio with fellow Raptor DeMar DeRozan and posted this on Instagram.

This is a real friendship , this is a real bother, this is us forreal!!! Words can only explain so much to what this dude means to me so it's not going even matter what i say because words can't explain how important our friendship is to me. Thank you for being you at all time no matter what from DAY1( even though you ain't pass me the ball back when I 1st got to the team😂😂jk) but we've grown as men, fathers , sons, and everything else in the last 4 years and most importantly we've done it TOGETHER!! I could go on and on but I ain't because you soft and might cry when you read it so imma stop now 😂😂. I love you bro that's real talk, no matter what happens ever in life we still gone be brothers!! Happy life day !!!! #youknowyoustillmylilbro #dinneronmebecasueitsyourbirthday #1-3equals4bro😂😂 #SIKE#ineedthemostexpensivemeal #hadtocropoutcuzbigassheadlol #youstilldontpassmetheballenoughlol #brothers#lovebro#COMP10 #donewiththismushystufflol

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That friendship is only going to get stronger with the bond of a gold medal as members of Team USA.

Luke Walton went to Rams training camp to learn from Jeff Fisher

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Luke Walton has the highest profile coaching job in Los Angeles. Jeff Fisher is suddenly right behind him.

New Lakers’ coach Walton went to Rams practice this week to watch new-to-Los Angeles coach Jeff Fisher and how he runs a practice. Walton said he just came looking to learn in an interview with the Rams’ official site.

“I came down with an open mind. I know it’s obviously different sports, but coaching to me is coaching. It’s how you relate to the players and different strategies.”

Fisher has coached in the NFL since Forest Gump was in movie theaters. Or as long as Dakota Fanning has been alive. When he took his first NFL coaching job, everyone was using Netscape Navigator to get around the Web. Let’s just say Fisher has been at this a while, he’s learned a lot of lessons, some of which he might be able to pass along to a young hoops coach.

Walton isn’t the first NBA coach to see what they can crib from a football coach — Erik Spoelstra went to watch Chip Kelly’s practices at Oregon, for example. In terms of structure, in terms of relating to players, there certainly are things that can be learned.

What Walton really could use is Brandon Ingram to turn out to be as good as Todd Gurley.

Paul George trying to set up meeting with French gymnast who shattered leg

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Samir Ait Said is one of the biggest — and saddest — stories of the Olympics so far. On the first day of competition, Said fractured his tibia when he tried to land his vault, it was a gruesome moment that went viral (you can see the video by following this link, but know this is not for people with queasy stomachs).

Paul George knows what that is like.

The Team USA forward who suffered a compound fracture his leg in a USA exhibition in Las Vegas two years ago — and recovered, making it back to the Olympics — wants to meet with Said, reports Jeff Zillgitt at the USA Today.

U.S. Olympic basketball player Paul George is trying to set up a meeting with injured French gymnast Samir Ait Said. George has a level of empathy that most people don’t….

It was his idea to meet with Said, according to USA Basketball spokesperson Craig Miller. However, it is uncertain when or if that meeting can occur. Miller said Said was not yet accepting visitors as of Sunday afternoon.

Said just had surgery to repair the broken Tibia. He said in a Facebook video he plans to be back for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

George can tell him the rehab is grueling and unrelenting, but he can get back and succeed — George had 15 points in Team USA’s first game in Rio, a thrashing of China. Hopefully Said has the same success.