France goes on 16-2 run to close game, hands USA first Olympic loss since 2004

JPN: United States v France Men's Basketball - Olympics: Day 2
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The good news is Team USA has two more group games — against lesser teams — and should still be able to win and advance out of group play into the knockout round at the Tokyo Olympics. There is a lot of basketball yet to be played.

The bad news is Team USA has a lot of work to do if it’s going to advance in those knockout games and win a medal. Any medal.

France closed the game on a 16-2 run — with Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum hitting clutch shots while Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and the rest of Team USA went cold, or just passed up good looks — and came from behind late to beat the USA 83-76.

It was the USA’s first loss in the Olympics since 2004, snapping a 24-game win streak.

“They are better individually, but they can be beaten as a team,” Fournier said after the game.

That loss surprised some American fans, but not coach Gregg Popovich, who understands the rest of the world is catching up.

“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed,” Popovich said after the game. “I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.”

France earned the win. Fournier — a current NBA free agent who helped that cause on Sunday — scored 28 points to lead all scorers, including hitting a clutch three late. Rudy Gobert added 14 points and nine rebounds, plus had his usual solid defense in the paint.

The USA led by seven midway through the fourth quarter thanks to strong defense forcing misses and turnovers, plus a lot of Jrue Holiday — he almost single-handedly won this game for the Americans. Just days after playing heavy minutes in the NBA Finals, 48-hours after a champagne-soaked championship parade, followed by a long plane flight to Tokyo that landed less than 24 hours before the game, Holiday was somehow the most ready American. He had 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and played strong defense all game.

That defense, from Holiday and Team USA as a whole to start the fourth, erased a six-point deficit and had the USA in control of the game, up by seven, midway through the fourth.

“We haven’t been together that long, but we’ve been together long enough to have that consistency. We have to defend better down the stretch,” Draymond Green said.

Down the stretch the American’s couldn’t buy a bucket, passing up good looks and not attacking the rim. The Americans settled, and nobody stepped up (outside of Holiday) and took charge late. France had a clear pecking order for clutch shots (starting with Fournier), the Americans looked like they were still trying to find theirs.

“We were just trying too hard to do the right thing,” Lillard said

As was the case in their exhibition losses to Nigeria and Australia, when the USA couldn’t generate offense in transition they struggled. The USA half-court offense looks like a group of players still trying to figure out their new roles and when to just shoot. In the NBA, every one of these players is a first or second scoring option with a permanent green light to shoot, but here both LaVine and Lillard passed up wide-open threes or driving lanes to the rim to try and set up teammates, and the results were turnovers or worse looks.

There were flashes of the USA squad that could win gold in this game. USA Basketball came out playing aggressive defense, then running off turnovers and misses, and that became a 16-4 first-quarter run that gave the Americans a comfortable lead early. While that lead went up and down through the second, the USA held the lead and got it up to eight at the half, 45-37. Bam Adebayo led the way with 10 points in the first half, Lillard added nine.

Defensively the USA switched everything, which led to France trying to force a guard to defend Rudy Gobert then get the 7’2″ Utah Jazz big man the ball inside. In the second half, the French upped that ante playing two bigs at the same time and daring the Americans to stop it. They couldn’t. France went on a 22-7 third-quarter run and led by six at the end of three. Kevin Durant saw his minutes limited up to that point, having constantly been in foul trouble.

Durant played the entire fourth quarter but couldn’t find his stroke. Adebayo scored just two points in the second half and finished with 12, Lillard had 11, and Durant 10. As a team the USA shot 36.2% overall and 31.3% from 3 (a line that is shorter than the NBA line).

The USA faces Iran next, followed by the Czech Republic. Both are very winnable games, do that and the USA will finish in the top two and advance out of Group A into knockout play.

By then, the Americans will need to find a consistent defense, a halfcourt offense, and a clutch shot pecking order, or this will not be the only loss for Team USA this Olympics.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.