USA women roll to seventh straight gold medal; Bird, Taurasi pick up fifth gold each

BASKETBALL-OLY-2020-2021-TOKYO-PODIUM
ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images
0 Comments

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi walked off the basketball court together, arm-in-arm, one last time at the Tokyo Games.

They started their journey together five Olympics ago and ended it in the same fashion as always — with gold medals hanging around their necks.

“All of what we’ve done for USA Basketball, we’ve done together. It’s fitting,” Bird said after the 90-75 win over Japan on Sunday.

And now it’s over — at least for the 40-year-old Bird.

“The best comparison is college since you know it’s the end,” Bird said. “Now I always have a wonderful feeling and a great taste in my mouth my senior year. That’s how it is with USA Basketball.”

All she and Taurasi have done on the international stage is win and now the pair stands alone with five gold medals — the first basketball players ever to accomplish that feat.

“It’s 20 years and people only get to see these moments,” Taurasi said. “We’re on these trips every day together. every conversation. this means a lot to us.”

While Bird is retiring from international basketball, Taurasi left the door open after the game in her on-court interview that she’ll play in Paris in 2024.

She isn’t actually certain she’ll play, saying: “We’ll see.”

But, Bird threw a quick jab at her 39-year-old friend for even considering it.

“Hahaha, idiot,” Bird said laughing while standing next to Taurasi and talking with The Associated Press.

The U.S. has now won the last seven Olympic gold medals matching the country’s men’s program for the most ever in a row. The men did it from 1936-68.

With Bird orchestrating the flow of games and Taurasi’s scoring, they have been a constant force for the U.S., providing stability for the women’s program since the 2004 Athens Games. They have won all 38 of the games at the Olympics they’ve competed in.

The names have changed around the pair, including greats Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Tamika Catchings and Sylvia Fowles, but the results haven’t.

The Americans are on a 55-game Olympic winning streak dating back to the bronze medal game of the 1992 Barcelona Games.

The U.S. let Japan know that wasn’t going to change on Sunday.

The Americans jumped out to a 18-5 lead behind a dominant first quarter by Brittney Griner. The team lead 23-14 after one as Griner had 10 points, taking advantage of the undersized Japanese team. Japan was able to get within six in the second quarter before the Americans went up 11 at the half and never looked back.

As the final buzzer sounded, Bird and Taurasi embraced and then proceeded to hug all of their teammates and the coaching staff.

Griner finished with 30 points, making 14 of her 18 shots. It was the most points ever by a U.S. player in a gold medal game, surpassing the 29 by Leslie in 1996.

While Bird has said she is moving on, the future is bright for the U.S. behind Griner, Breanna Stewart and the six newcomers on this year’s team. That included A’ja Wilson, who will be counted on to keep the streak going three years from now at the 2024 Paris Games. Wilson, who celebrated her 25th birthday on Sunday, made her presence felt in her Olympic debut, scoring 19 points in the gold medal game.

But there were other milestones of note Sunday besides Bird’s farewell.

The victory also made Dawn Staley, the first Black women’s basketball coach for the U.S., the second woman to win a gold medal as a player, assistant and head coach joining Anne Donovan. Staley said after the game that she won’t come back to coach in Paris.

Staley said being part of six Olympics is enough for her, “I’m full.”

The game also marked the end of Carol Callan’s run as the national team director. She started right before the Americans won the first gold of this streak in 1996 and has been the architect for this unprecedented run.

Japan, which was the only one of the 11 other teams to ever have beaten the U.S. in an Olympics, won a medal for the first time in the country’s history. The team’s best finish before Sunday was fifth.

The host nation has been on the rise since it hired coach Tom Hovasse. He said when he got the job 4 1/2 years ago that his team would be playing against the U.S. for the gold at the Tokyo Games — and would beat them.

He was half right.

The teams met in preliminary pool play and the U.S. won by 17 points after trailing by two after the first quarter. Just like that game, the Americans used their dominant post advantage to control the title game. Japan’s biggest player was 6-foot-1 — no match for the imposing front line led by Griner, who is 6-9.

While the general public and family members couldn’t attend the games because of the coronavirus pandemic, Bird did have fiancee Megan Rapinoe in the stands cheering her on. Bird came over and embraced Rapinoe after the game. She helped the U.S. women’s soccer team win a bronze medal earlier this week, scoring two goals in that game.

A large contingent of Japanese volunteers, who had been in the Saitama Super Arena for the entire tournament sat and applauded their team. No actual cheering was allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Curry drains 7 3-pointers, Nets start homestand with win over Blazers

0 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 31 points, Seth Curry added a season-high 29 off the bench and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-94 on Sunday.

Curry was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers and had his highest point total with the Nets and the most by a Brooklyn reserve this season.

“I’ve always felt like if I get good shots I’m going to make them at a high clip,” Curry said. “Our offense was flowing pretty well. Guys found me open early on to start the game and I felt pretty good, aggressive.”

Kyrie Irving added 22 points for the Nets. Ben Simmons took just three shots but had 12 rebounds and eight assists.

“Ben did a great job of getting downhill,” Curry said. “He’s a great passer (and) he knows how to find me out there on the floor.”

Jerami Grant scored 29 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Anfernee Simons added 15 points and Justice Winslow had 14.

The Nets have won four of their last six games, while the Trail Blazers, who are playing without Damian Lillard, have dropped five of six.

“Tough little stretch that we’re in right now,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It is what it is. Every team goes through it.”

Brooklyn made 52.6% of its shots from the field overall, and 42.9% from 3-point range, in the second matchup between the teams in 10 days.

“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Durant said. “It’s about baskets.”

With the Nets leading by four entering the fourth, Curry scored Brooklyn’s first eight points of the quarter. Royce O'Neale‘s free throw gave the Nets a 93-87 lead and following a Portland turnover, Curry made a 3 that extended the advantage to nine.

Nurkic sandwiched a hook shot and free throw around two free throws by Irving to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 98-90. However, after a timeout, Durant hit a 3 to push the lead to 101-90.

Brooklyn led 58-57 at halftime, and 84-80 after the third quarter.

T.J. Warren targets Dec. 2 for return to court for Brooklyn Nets

2022-2023 Brooklyn Nets Media Day
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

T.J. Warren was a breakout star in the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers.

Warren has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

The Nets signed him this season hoping he could get healthy and provide some depth off the bench at the four. We’re about to find out if that can happen on Dec. 2, with Warren targeting his return then Toronto, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets have not confirmed this timeline. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has recently talked up Warren’s workouts and hinted that a return is getting close.

A healthy Warren could be a big boost for a Nets team looking for more of a spark off the bench.

 

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

0 Comments

The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

0 Comments

PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.