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Monday, July 4, 2022

Devin Booker has best game yet, USA moves past Aussies to Olympic final

SAITAMA, JAPAN – AUGUST 05: Devin Booker #15 of Team United States shoots over Nathan Sobey #9 of Team Australia during the second half of a Men’s Basketball quarterfinals game on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on August 05, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It hasn’t been pretty at times, but the United States men’s basketball team and Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker are now one win away from a gold medal.

After being down 15 points in the mid-second quarter to Australia, Team USA rallied back and advanced to the finals of Olympic play in Tokyo 97-78.

For the second straight game, Booker played a huge part in a game-swinging third quarter, being a true two-way difference-maker for the red, white and blue.

He had 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting and led the game in plus-minus again after doing so against Spain, this time at plus-30. Booker, Jrue Holiday and Kevin Durant have been far and away the Americans’ three best players and that was once again the case on Wednesday.

Durant scored a game-high 23 points while Holiday added 11 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, a steal and a block.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Americans’ offense was a mess early on.

Australia was applying pressure to Team USA’s ball screens, whether it was a slight dig or an outright trap. That, in theory, should make things easy for a Untied States squad with a roster built around ball-handling. Alas, most of their players looked clueless on how to rapidly rotate the ball, attack closeouts and get a good look against a scrambling defense. It makes for a particularly infuriating viewing experience as a supporter after watching the Suns making that type of offense look effortless last season.

Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum have struggled mightily in that regard, and it has hurt the flow of the offense. Add in Zach LaVine to that group, along with a generally ineffective Khris Middleton, and that’s nearly half of head coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation.

And that inability to adjust affects Team USA’s overall rhythm. Tatum was turning over his drives with, with all due respect, Jock Landale closing out on him. Middleton was blowing layups, and Lillard kept exiting a ball screen, refusing to turn the corner and get downhill toward the basket.

All of this added up to mistakes and bad shots. At halftime, the USA was 2-of-13 from three-point range with eight turnovers.

In a testament to how good Durant is and how bad his team’s offense was, the best option for the offense was actually giving him the ball and everyone else getting out of the way. That is not how a team should play throughout the course of an entire game, even if it’s through the most talented scorer of all time, but there was no better choice in the first half.

Even with that in mind and the Americans down 41-26 at one point, they mustered up a 16-4 run to close the first half miraculously only be down three.

Following Team USA taking a one-point lead in the early third quarter, Durant got even hotter after 15 points in the first two quarters. He scored or assisted the Americans’ next 13 points. That plus a string of possessions that were the United States’ best defense of the game, most of which Booker played a role in, and suddenly it was a nine-point USA edge.

From there, Booker contributed six straight points of his own, set up a corner three a few possessions later and then hit a two-point jumper at the buzzer to put the Americans in cruise control up 19. It was a 32-10 third quarter for the United States.

Australian guard Patty Mills was shut down to 5-of-14 shooting. If you’re new to FIBA play, Mills always takes his game up a few notches for the Boomers, but Booker, Holiday and company played strong defense on him all night long.

It’ll be either Slovenia or France for the United States in the final on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

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