Tagged in: jrue holiday

Team USA falls to France at Tokyo Games for first Olympic men’s basketball loss since 2004

Team USA’s invincibility in men’s basketball is long gone, and the journey to a fourth successive gold medal is already fraught with adversity.

France gut-punched the Americans with a brilliant finish for an 83-76 triumph to open the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday. It snapped a 25-game Olympic winning streak dating back to 2004 for Team USA.

The final blow came when Evan Fournier drilled a 3-pointer with a minute to play to give the French the lead for good, completing their comeback after the U.S. had an eight-point lead with four minutes to play. It was the biggest of his 28 points in one of the finest games he has played in his career.

It was followed by an amazing possession in which the Americans managed to get five shots off and missed them all. The final three were wide-open 3-point attempts by Zach LaVine, Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday.

“I got to lead the team because I know these guys,” Fournier said. “It’s a hell of a win. Our country is going to be extremely proud. But it’s just one game, to be honest.”

If there was a moment in this match that best encapsulated the situation between these two teams, it came at the end, when the French calmly shook the Americans’ hands and left the floor with the same business-as-usual demeanor Fournier displayed. Two years ago at the World Cup in China, France celebrated wildly after defeating a much-less-talented Team USA.

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“There’s nothing to be surprised about,” Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said before launching into what has become his go-to statement after losses.

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

The French won the bronze at that World Cup, but their talent does not compare to that of the Americans.

And it does not explain how a U.S. team built for scoring and shooting went an unexplainable four and a half minutes without a basket down the stretch.

Fatigue was a factor. Three players didn’t get to the team hotel until 1 a.m. on gameday, an unusual set of circumstances. But one of them, Jrue Holiday, was masterful in the fourth quarter as he scored 12 of his 18 points and contributed several other energy plays to help the U.S. build a lead.

The Americans then had a host of stars to lean on such as Durant, Jayson Tatum and Damian Lillard. But they failed as the French ran an execution clinic.

Popovich seemed annoyed by media questions about the upset, as has been his custom. He has overseen losses in five of the past eight games he has coached for the national team dating back to 2019. There were some who admitted the loss was a disappointment, however.

“I think we have a history of dominance and maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning. And it’s not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start,” stated Lillard, who shot just 3-of-10 and had two critical turnovers late in the game.

Popovich said he’d been thinking about this rematch for two years and daily since the game was drawn in February. But he never figured out how to slow down Fournier as he repeatedly got free for open looks on the perimeter. Even Holiday, who was brilliant in the NBA Finals, helping the Bucks clinch the title Tuesday, couldn’t stem the tide.

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Khris Middleton lifts Milwaukee Bucks past Atlanta Hawks, into NBA Finals

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 — and they secured the final wins of the series without star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee defeated the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 on Saturday behind 32 points from Khris Middleton. Jrue Holiday added 27 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists.

After the final buzzer sounded and the Bucks swarmed the center of the court, putting on caps and T-shirts that announced them as Eastern Conference champions, players hugged each other and laughed. Coaches embraced.

“It feels awesome,” Holiday said. “I’m still kind of on this high, but I’m going to the Finals. It’s cool to think as a little kid, this is what you watch the playoffs for. This is all the moments that I felt as a little kid watching TV. I lived them and went through them and now I get to go to the Finals and see what this is about.”

Antetokounmpo, who has been out since injuring his knee in the third quarter of Game 4 when he landed awkwardly after contesting an alley-oop, was in the middle of it all — a triumphant fist raised in the air.

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Thursday marked the end of a slew of Milwaukee playoff runs that were cut short or went awry. In the 2019 postseason, the Bucks swept the Detroit Pistons, defeated the Boston Celtics in five games and built a 2-0 lead versus the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Then, after losing back-to-back games only once during the entire regular season, the Bucks lost four consecutive games to the Raptors and were eliminated.

Last season in the NBA’s bubble, the Bucks fizzled to a disappointing end in the playoffs.

Milwaukee earned the No. 1 seed and defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. But Antetokounmpo sprained his ankle in Game 3 of the team’s series against the Miami Heat.

He gave it a go in Game 4, but re-sprained his ankle in that game and was unable to play in Game 5, when Milwaukee was eliminated. Back then, Antetokounmpo said that “nobody was going to be happy” with the outcome of Milwaukee’s 2019-20 playoff run. He said he hoped the Bucks could learn from that loss.

It appears they did — and those losses, Middleton said, made their success this season that much better.

“It’s been a long journey,” Middleton said. “But it’s been a great journey. It’s been worth it. After winning 15 games in our first year here and seven years not making the playoffs, to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough and now we’re here. This is what we’ve worked for.”

The Bucks avenged last season’s loss and rolled the Heat in four matches in the first round. Midway through that series, starting guard Donte DiVincenzo injured his ankle. He had season-ending surgery on a ligament in his left ankle in June and P.J. Tucker slid into a starting role.

Still, Milwaukee kept rolling. After falling down 3-2 in a wild series versus the betting title favorite Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks outlasted them in a seven-game series. And after losing at home for the first time in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks battled back, including winning two games without Antetokounmpo.

All the while, Antetokounmpo stood — almost never sitting down — on the sidelines in black shorts and a Bucks warm-up shirt. A protective sleeve swaddled his hyperextended left knee. But even injured and unable to play, Antetokounmpo was in the middle of the celebration. His longest hug was reserved for his brother and teammate, Thanasis.

“There’s a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games,” Budenholzer said. “Khris and Giannis are the key to this team, to this organization. To have the opportunity to coach them and come here three years ago and try to build something special, those two guys are special, and it starts with them.”

And while there has been no public decision on whether or not Antetokounmpo will be available to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, one thing is certain: The Bucks are sitting atop a hill that Antetokounmpo has envisioned summiting for years.

Now, they have just one more leg to complete. “We ain’t did nothing yet,” Tucker said.

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Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 1116-113 in Game 1

Trae Young scored 48 points, Clint Capela converted a go-ahead putback with 29.8 seconds left and the Atlanta Hawks defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-113 on Wednesday night to open the Eastern Conference finals.

The Hawks improved to 6-2 in road playoff games this year and handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason.

“I felt we’ve built ourselves to be able to play on the road,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I’ve told them that. They’re built for this.”

Game 2 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks. Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists.

Young was two points off his career high. “We keep fighting,” Young said. “It’s been fun playing with this group. We just keep fighting to the end, no matter what the score is. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep fighting.”

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John Collins added 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks. Capela had 12 points and 19 rebounds.

Khris Middleton missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

Although Middleton scored 15 points, he shot 6 of 23 and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.

“Offensively, it didn’t seem like we moved very well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer stated.

Antetokounmpo scored the first six points in a 9-0 run that turned a 98-96 deficit into a 105-98 advantage with 4:18 left. Holiday capped that spurt by sinking a 3-pointer after Antetokounmpo got the rebound on his own missed free throw.

But the Hawks scored the next five points, and the game went back and forth from there.

Middleton missed a pull-up jumper with about 43 seconds left with Milwaukee up 111-110. Young missed a driving layup attempt, but Capela grabbed his 19th rebound and scored to put the Hawks ahead for good.

After Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton shot an air-ball on a 3-pointer, Young made two free throws with 17.3 seconds left. Antetokounmpo made a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left, but Young brought the lead back to three and closed the scoring by sinking two free throws of his own with 4.6 seconds remaining.

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James Harden (hamstring) struggles in 5-point return, but Brooklyn Nets win Game 5

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden was held to five points in his return to the starting lineup Tuesday night, but the Nets went on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-108 in Game 5 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Brooklyn leads the series 3-2.

The decision to let Harden to play was made after he tested his right hamstring on the court before tipoff. He played 37 minutes and shot 1-for-10 from the field, missing all eight of his 3-point attempts, and went scoreless in the first half. He added six rebounds, eight assists and four turnovers.

It was the first time Harden was available to play in a game since June 5, when he injured his hamstring in the first minute of Game 1 of the series. Since then, he has been dealing with what the team has called hamstring tightness.

“I’m not sure the level of risk,” head coach Steve Nash said before the game. “I think it is James’ decision. He wants to play. Ultimately, he wants to play. He’s been pushing.”

Harden participated in the Nets’ shootaround Tuesday morning with improvement in his hamstring, and that prompted the team to upgrade his status from doubtful to questionable for Game 5, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Nets are preparing to be without guard Kyrie Irving (right ankle sprain) for the rest of the series, sources said. The team hasn’t officially ruled Irving out beyond Game 5.

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Nash stated Sunday that the team would try to approach the injuries as isolated incidents and not let Irving’s ankle sprain rush Harden back to the floor before his hamstring is fully healed.

Still, Nash admitted Monday that Irving’s injury was a “driving” factor for Harden in pushing to return.

“He wants to play,” Nash said. “He wants to win a championship. He loves the playoffs and the ability to play this time of year. So, I think it’s been really difficult for him on how much he cares, how much time he puts in, how much effort he’s put in to get to this position.”

Irving was injured midway through the second quarter of Sunday’s Game 4 in Milwaukee when he landed awkwardly on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot after making a layup over Jrue Holiday. Antetokounmpo crashed the paint in what was an attempt to help Holiday, who was the primary defender.

Irving remained on the ground for several minutes as Nash and the team’s athletic trainers attended to him. Eventually, Irving walked to the locker room without assistance but was limping. He left the arena in a walking boot and on crutches. An MRI on Monday confirmed Irving’s ankle sprain.

The Nets have battled injuries all campaign.

The Big Three of Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant played just eight games together in the regular season and six games together in the playoffs — including the game in which Harden was injured after just 43 seconds.

Harden missed 18 games in the regular season with a hamstring strain, and before that he missed two with hamstring tightness.

During warm-ups Tuesday, Harden was moving well as he shot, did cutting motions and threw passes to Jeff Green. Harden had protective kinesiology tape stretched over his right hamstring.

“We have to support him the best way we can,” Nash said of Harden, “and be an aid for him to figure this out, but it’s a tricky situation — but one that we are willing to go down with James. He’s just been unbelievable for us this year, and we want to support him.”

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Bucks put Heat on brink, win 113-84 for 3-0 series lead

The Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to sweep the Miami Heat out of the playoffs, and they’re making the task of dispatching the reigning Eastern Conference champions look very simple.

Khris Middleton scored 22 points, Jrue Holiday added 19 points and 12 assists and the Bucks took a 3-0 lead in their East first-round series with a 113-84 triumph in Miami on Thursday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee, which can end the sweep and move into the East semifinals with a victory Saturday afternoon.

“The last two games haven’t been easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, we were up 30, but it’s not easy. … I’ll say this: I’ll say by us doing our job, I’m not surprised that we’re able to win a game because once we focus on ourselves, play together, have fun and be tough, good things are going to happen. And in these three games, good things have happened for us.”

Miami has lost three games by 29 points or more this campaign — all versus Milwaukee, two of them in the last two games of this series. The Bucks held leads of 51 and 36 points against Miami in games earlier this season; the margin got to 32 on Thursday night.

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And as if Milwaukee needed another edge, there’s this: No team in NBA history has ever squandered a 3-0 series lead.

“We’re not worried about that. We control what we can control, and that’s how we play, that’s how we prepare, how we compete,” Miami forward Jimmy Butler said. “Not too worried about what history says and all of that good stuff, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Butler scored 19 points and Bam Adebayo had 17 for Miami. Nemanja Bjelica — little-used by Miami this season, then called upon Thursday out of desperation for any sort of outside shooting — scored 14 points.

Milwaukee outrebounded Miami 56-41, held the Heat to 38% shooting and became the first team to top Miami by at least 29 points twice in the same playoff series. And that’s after the Bucks beat Miami by 47, in Miami, back in December.

“We’ve got to continue to work,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They have so many weapons on the other side. They do a lot of things that are hard to guard. Defensively, our focus, our attention to detail has got to stay high.”

The biggest Miami crowd of the season, by far — 17,000 in a building that in pre-pandemic times called 19,600 a sellout — showed up, most of them in their seats by tip-off, hoping that they would see the start of a turnaround.

Instead, in the biggest game of the season, they saw Miami’s slowest start of the season.

The Heat managed only eight points in the game’s first nine minutes, the fewest they managed in such a game-opening span since last August and the fewest to open a game on their home floor since Nov. 14, 2018.

It was 26-14 Milwaukee after one quarter, then the lead swelled to as much as 19 — 44-25 late in the second before got to 49-36 at the half. That matched the fewest points permitted by the Bucks in a first half in more than three years.

The margin swelled to 27 in the third quarter. More than a few of those 17,000 fans didn’t stick around too much longer.

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Bucks rally in 4th to beat Nets 124-118, clinch playoff spot

Milwaukee’s late-season schedule has given the Bucks plenty of chances to measure themselves against the two teams they’re chasing in the Eastern Conference standings.

The results have been encouraging.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points and the Bucks used a fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Brooklyn Nets for the second time in three days, winning 124-118 on Tuesday night. This mini-sweep comes less than two weeks after the Bucks won two consecutive games from East-leading Philadelphia.

“I’m happy we were able to put on a show for our fans and able to build good habits in those games, but that’s all,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had 12 rebounds.

“They don’t mean nothing. Nobody’s going to remember these games when we’re in the playoffs.”

Brooklyn (43-23) lost its third straight to fall 1½ games behind Philadelphia (44-21) Milwaukee (41-24) clinched a fifth straight playoff appearance, but is third in the East, three behind Philadelphia and 1½ behind Brooklyn.

The Bucks are chasing their first NBA title since 1971.

They posted the NBA’s best regular-season record in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but lost in the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago and in the second round last year.

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That’s why they’re not making too much about their regular-season success versus the teams ahead of them.

After all, the Nets didn’t have James Harden for either of their two losses in Milwaukee. Philadelphia didn’t have All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons playing together in any of its matchups with Milwaukee.

If nothing else, these last two weeks have given the Bucks a confidence boost.

“It’s important to be playing well going down the stretch here,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Milwaukee blew a 10-point lead in the second half and trailed 103-97 with 10 minutes left, but it responded with an 18-1 run.

Brooklyn cut the margin to four with 1:02 left, but Antetokounmpo sank a pair of free throws and Jrue Holiday made a steal in the final minute to seal the triumph. Holiday had 23 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

“They got a nice groove going in the fourth, made shots, made plays,” said Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, who had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “You’ve got to give them credit.”

Kyrie Irving scored 38 points for the Nets, who got outrebounded 55-39.

Milwaukee’s Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with 10 points. Khris Middleton had 23 points and seven rebounds.

“They were overall more physical than us on both ends of the floor,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. The Bucks’ fourth-quarter comeback followed their 117-114 Sunday afternoon victory over the Nets, also in Milwaukee.

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