Behind 42 from Patty Mills, Australia earns bronze, nation’s first Olympic basketball medal

Australia v Slovenia Men's Basketball - Olympics: Day 15
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SAITAMA, Japan — Patty Mills and Joe Ingles stood at center court locked in a long embrace, looking as if they might never let go.

Eventually they had to move along, because the Australians had somewhere to be.

For the first time in their country’s history, they had a reservation booked on the Olympic men’s basketball medal platform. Mills scored 42 points to carry Australia to the bronze with a 107-93 victory over Slovenia on Saturday.

“We’ve been through a lot together, on the court, off the court,” Mills said. “It’s all paid off.”

He and Ingles had their arms around each other again a few minutes later — after Ingles hung the bronze medal around his teammate’s neck.

“There was no doubt in my mind going into this that he was going to bring it home for us,” Ingles said.

Mills, the team captain and emotional leader of a veteran core that knew its time had to be now after so much heartbreak, shared hugs with teammates in a postgame celebration that finally came after four fourth-place finishes.

Ingles added 16 points for the Australians, who were fourth in 2016 but couldn’t be denied this time.

“All I could think about today was man, this has just got to happen, this has just got to happen,” coach Brian Goorjian said.

Luka Doncic had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but committed seven turnovers as Slovenia dropped its second straight after winning its first 17 games in competition with Doncic in uniform.

He said he was disappointed in the way he played but proud of the performance of his team, which earned its Olympic spot by winning a qualifying tournament in Lithuania last month.

“I need to learn from this, we all need to learn from this,” Doncic said. “But at the same time, we’re in the top four in the world. Slovenia, 2 million people.”

In its first Olympics, Slovenia cut a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to 83-80 when Doncic hit a 3-pointer with 6:18 remaining.

But the Australians, who couldn’t hold a 15-point lead against the U.S. in the semifinals, wouldn’t let this one get away. They scored seven straight to push it back to double digits, then blew it open down the stretch.

They finished it off in front of the U.S. and France, who came back to Saitama Super Arena during the game for the medal ceremony after the Americans beat the French 87-82 earlier Saturday.

It was a ceremony that Mills desperately wanted the Australians to be a part of this time. He refused to talk about his own NBA future, even after agreeing to sign with the Brooklyn Nets during the week, because he insisted his team stay locked in on only one goal.

Mills scored 26 points in the first half, making sure there would be no lingering disappointment for Australia after a 97-78 loss to the U.S. two days earlier.

“Obviously he carried us tonight,” Ingles said.

Doncic had a memorable first Olympics, having come into the game averaging 24.2 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He scored 48 points in Slovenia’s opener, tied for second-most in the Olympics by a men’s player, and had just the third triple-double in men’s Olympic history when he finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists against France in the semifinals.

But the Slovenians couldn’t pull that game out, falling 90-89 when Nicolas Batum blocked Klemen Prepelic’s drive with 2.4 seconds left. They tried to put that behind them to add an Olympic bronze to their 2017 European championship, but Mills and the Australians were just too good and too determined.

“I think we were mentally and physically exhausted from our semifinal game,” Slovenia’s Mike Tobey said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we had enough left in the tank for today.”

The most recent failure may have been the cruelest for the Aussies, an 89-88 loss to Spain in Rio when Sergio Rodriguez made two free throws with 5.4 seconds left after Mills was called for a foul on what appeared little or no contact.

Mills wouldn’t let this one be close enough for a repeat.

He scored 10 points during a 17-4 surge that gave the Australians a 45-35 lead and at points seemed to be targeting Doncic, calling teammates over to set a pick so the Dallas Mavericks star would have to switch onto him.

Doncic couldn’t stop him and neither could his teammates, and Doncic was noticeably frustrated throughout the game.

Wearing a covering over the left forearm or wrist he hurt in the semifinals, he frequently questioned officials’ calls, putting himself out of position to get back on defense.

Doncic said the emotions came from the Slovenians’ desire to deliver a medal to their fans.

“This is not the way I should behave,” Doncic said. “I’ve got to learn from that.”

Doncic’s 30, Mavericks’ 17-0 run lift them past Knicks at MSG

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NEW YORK (AP) — Luka Doncic had a game-high 30 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in 28 points against his former team, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the New York Knicks 121-100 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 17 points for Dallas, which outscored New York 69-41 in the second half for just its second win seven games.

“I think it’s great that everyone’s in the locker room smiling,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody saw the ball go in, we shared the ball, we played the right way. … We’re a team that lives or dies by the 3, and today we made them.”

Forward Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points, and Immanuel Quickly chipped in 23. Leading scorer Jalen Brunson had 13 points playing against Dallas for the first time since he signed with the Knicks on July 12, but New York fell for the sixth time in its past eight games.

“To be honest, not fun,” Brunson said when asked what it was like playing against his former team. “They played great tonight. You got to give them credit. No matter who is on the floor, my approach stays the same. But to see them after the game and shake their hands, that was pretty cool.”

Hardaway exacted revenge against his former team, with whom he played 254 games over parts of four seasons. Hardaway had 17 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers, during a 27-6 run. He credited familiarity in New York – and Dallas’ previous game in Detroit – as keys to his third straight 20-plus point game.

“This road trip, when you have family and friends in both cities, it lightens you and brings some positive vibes and some positive energy,” Hardaway said. “To come here, to Detroit and to New York, both places where I used to play college and professionally, was a great atmosphere. I was comfortable, and my teammates (were) keeping me positive.”

Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had just 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he took over in the third, scoring 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dallas outscored New York 41-15 in the third quarter, turning a tight game into a rout.

“The first half I wasn’t really participating,” Doncic said. “It was a challenge to come out of the locker room with more energy.”

The Knicks shot 55% in the first half, including 63% from the field in the first quarter. Randle had 14 of his 21 first-half points in the first quarter, including seven on a 9-0 run that gave New York an early 14-5 advantage.

The Knicks led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and cut New York’s lead to seven, 59-52, at halftime.

“The start of the game, I thought we were pretty good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We built the 15-point lead, then we sort of lost traction mid-second quarter.”

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

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It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.