Popovich on winning gold: ‘Every championship is special, and the group you’re with is special’

At times, many thought that the Team USA men’s basketball team would not win gold in Tokyo, especially after losing exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia in Las Vegas and losing to France in their Olympic opener.

However, due to the greatness of Kevin Durant, Team USA was able to capture its fourth consecutive gold medal by defeating France 87-82 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on Saturday.

Durant, who scored 29 points in the gold medal game, was the leader for Team USA and has played a significant role in each of the last three golds. He’s scored 30 points in each of the previous two gold-medal games and now is tied with Carmelo Anthony for the most gold medals in Olympic men’s basketball history.

“I hate to compare stuff because you know everything is its own moment,” Durant said postgame. “But this is one of those special journeys that it’s just hard to describe because each and every one of us put in that work every single day, from the coaches to the trainers, to the players. We all came in with that goal of, ‘Let’s finish this thing off. Let’s build a family. Let’s build this team. Let’s grow this team every day.’ And when you are part of a team that’s evolving by the second, it’s just amazing to see.”

U.S. coach Gregg Popovich has five NBA titles, and now, he has a gold medal.

“Every championship is special, and the group you’re with is special,” he said. “But I can be honest and say this is the most responsibility I’ve ever felt because you’re playing for so many people that are watching and for your country and other countries involved. The responsibility was awesome, and I felt it every day for several years now. I’m feeling pretty light now and looking forward to getting back to the hotel and having something.”

Milwaukee Bucks teammates Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who joined the Olympic team in the early morning hours before the U.S. played France in pool play, became the fourth and fifth players to win the NBA Finals and an Olympic gold in the same year.

According to Holiday, this was a great summer.

“Getting in at one in the morning, me, Book(Devin Booker) and Khris(Middleton), and then playing that night against France, losing that game and then being able to go through the rest of the tournament and then winning the gold medal game,” Holiday said. “I don’t know — I guess me thinking about it, and me telling that story, man, that’s a hell of a summer.”

Give this team a lot of credit. They battled hard to win a gold medal. In the end, the world has caught up. However, the United States is still the top dog in men’s basketball.

Photo: (Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Giannis on block on Ayton: ‘I thought I was going to get dunked on’

If the Phoenix Suns fall short in the NBA Finals, they might look back at Game 4. Phoenix built a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Devin Booker, who had a bounce-back game with 42 points after scoring 10 points on Sunday, had to leave with his fifth foul with over 11 minutes left in the fourth.

When Booker returned midway through the fourth, the Suns still had a three-point lead, but Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton turned it on. He scored 14 of his 40 points in the final quarter, including the game-winner with just over a minute left in the contest as Milwaukee defeated Phoenix 109-103 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday night to tie the series up at 2.

“As far as the fourth quarter, late in the fourth quarter, we just ran sets that allowed me to get to my spots,” Middleton said. “After that, I just got to make reads. Whether to shoot, whether to find an open guy, Giannis(Antetokounmpo) on a roll. It’s just reading the defense at that point. Just luckily, thankfully, I hit some shots.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo added on Middleton: “But that’s what he does down the stretch. We want him to have the ball. We want him to be the decision-maker. We know he’s going to take big shots, and tonight he was incredible.”

It was not all about Middleton in the fourth. With the Bucks up 101–99 late in the game, Antetokounmpo, who had 26 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists in Game 4, made the defensive play of the game and maybe the series. Booker threw an alley-oop pass to Deandre Ayton, and the first-team all-defensive player made a fantastic block, which saved the game and maybe the series for the Bucks.

“Just a hustle play,” Antetokounmpo said on the block. “I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you. But you know, going down the stretch, do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game. I saw the play coming. I saw that Chris(Devin Booker) was going to throw the lob, and I was just going to jump vertical toward the rim. Hopefully, I can be there in time, and I was there in time and was able to get a good block and go down and get two points. So it was a great hustle play.”

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While Booker shined for Phoenix, Chris Paul struggled. He had 10 points(5/13 shooting), seven assists, and five turnovers. The most significant turnover was with 32.4 seconds left and the Suns trailing 101-99. Paul would lose the ball, and ultimately Middleton would put the game away with a layup in transition.

“It was me. I had five of them,” Paul said about the turnovers. “It was bad decision making. That time we were down two, and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half.”

Game 5 is Saturday night in Phoenix. It’s the best of three at this point. The Suns had an excellent opportunity to win Game 4 and wasted an outstanding performance by Booker, but now they go back to Phoenix and hope to get right. For the Bucks, they have been in an 0-2 hole before and know what it takes to get out of it.

Notes: 

-Antetokounmpo left the game at the 8:29 mark of the first quarter in Game 4. The reason why? He had to “tinkle.”

“How do you guys say politely? I wanted to take a tinkle. A tinkle,” he said. “I wanted to take a tinkle and came back (laughter). That’s polite, right?

-According to Elias Sports, Booker had the most points in Finals history by a player with 10 or fewer points in the previous game.

 

Bucks’ Middleton: When he’s(Antetokounmp) rolling sometimes like he was these last two games, you’ve just got to give him the ball’

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had another big-time performance in the NBA Finals, and this time, it translated to a victory. The two-time MVP had his second straight 40-point game in this series and scored 41 points, including 13/17 from the free-throw line, to go along with a team-high 13 rebounds and six assists as the Bucks routed the Suns 120-100 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum on Sunday night.

Antetokounmpo, who had 42 points and 12 rebounds in Game 2, and Shaquille O’Neal are the only two players in NBA history with 40-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in back-to-back Finals games.

“When he’s rolling sometimes like he was these last two games, you’ve just got to give him the ball, give him his space and allow him to go to work,” Khris Middleton, who had 21 points, seven assists, and six assists on Sunday, said about Antetokounmpo. 

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added on Antetokounmpo: “He’s just doing whatever it takes to help his team, to help us. He’s in an aggressive mindset. He always plays that way. But I thought he played with the pass well. He made some great reads, found guys, played against the zone. He just did a little bit of everything. Offensive boards, putbacks. We need a lot from him, and that’s what he does.”

Phoenix still leads the series 2-1, and Game 4 is on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

Game 3 was a must-win situation for Milwaukee. The Bucks were down 0-2 against the Nets in the second-round, but won the series in 7.

Milwaukee did what they needed to do on Sunday night, which Antetokounmpo discussed postgame.

“We know what kind of game this was going to be,” Antetokounmpo said. “We knew that if we lose the game, you are in the hole, 3-0 or whatever the case might be. We knew that we had to come here and play great basketball, so I knew that.”

The Bucks shot ten more free throws(26-16) than Phoenix in Game 3, and Suns C Deandre Ayton, who had 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter and nine rebounds on Sunday night, was saddled with foul trouble. While he did not want to complain about the officiating, Suns head coach Monty Williams pointed out the free-throw disparity. 

“I’m not going to get into the complaining publicly about fouls. Just not going to do that,” Williams said. “But you can look — we had 16 free throws tonight. One person had 17.”

Devin Booker struggled with his shot in Game 3 and was 3/14 from the field with 10 points, but the two-time All-Star expects to bounce back in Game 4.

“It wasn’t well, obviously,” Booker said. “But there’s nights like that. The most important part to me is winning the game, and we didn’t do that, so I’m more frustrated about that. But we have a few days off here. We’re going to get back right and going to go over film and be ready Wednesday.”

This effort was expected out of Milwaukee in Game 3. It should be interesting to see Phoenix’s response in Game 4. However, the Bucks, who are 8-1 at home this postseason, are back in this series.

Notes:

-Jrue Holiday had his best performance of the series on Sunday night. Holiday had 21 points, nine assists, and five assists. 

-Chris Paul led the Suns with 19 points and nine assists in Game 3. With the loss on Sunday night, Paul is now 0-12 when Scott Foster officiates his games in the playoffs.

Bucks’ Middleton: ‘Honestly, it’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey’

After 47 years, the Milwaukee Bucks are back in the NBA Finals. Khris Middleton scored 23 of his game-high 32 points in the third quarter, and Jrue Holiday added 27 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists as the Bucks defeated the Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at State Farm Arena on Saturday night.

Milwaukee wins the series 4-2, and now, they get ready for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals.

Despite not having Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed Games 5 and 6 due to a hyperextended left knee, the Bucks found a way. Getting to the NBA Finals was not an easy journey for the Bucks, which their head coach Mike Budenholzer discussed after the game.

“Yeah, what a roller coaster of emotions, especially this series,” Budenholzer said. “But the series before and opening with Miami, and how good they are. So just impressed with the resilience of the group, the character of the group. They just have a focus, and an edge that’s put us in a good place put us in an opportunity to keep playing. And so you’ve got to deal with all those emotions, everything that goes into each round, and this group has been able to do that. It’s impressive, but we’ve got more to do.”

Middleton and Antetokounmpo came into the NBA together with the Bucks, and the two went through the highs and lows in Milwaukee, including some playoff disappointments over the years, to get to this point. Middleton reflected on that journey following the victory.

“Honestly, it’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey,” Middleton said. “It’s been worth it. We put ourselves in position to be in the NBA Finals. 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 work for. Extremely happy that we’re still playing.

According to Holiday, this journey to the Finals is a story he will tell his children.

“Man, it’s been — it’s a story that I get to tell my kids, and it’s a story I get to tell people, and that’s one of the coolest things,” Holiday said. “Playing against the Heat and what we did against them; and then coming back against Brooklyn, one of the most talented teams in the league, or ever, honestly, against one of the best, what, top three of the greatest scorers of our game; and then a great Atlanta team, a young team but that have some crucial players.”

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks missed the playoffs. This season, the Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference finals, which unexpected to many, so no matter what happened in Eastern Conference finals, this season was a success. According to Trae Young, who returned and had 14 points and nine assists on Saturday after missing Games 4 and 5 with a foot injury, Atlanta wants to keep this winning vibe going.

“I definitely feel like this is a start,” Young said. “I mean, this is the beginning. We’ve accomplished so much this year, but just the guys in the locker room, the young guys, we all understand that this is just the beginning. It’s fun. We had the city excited. We want to keep it this way.”

The Bucks move on to the NBA Finals against the Suns, and if they can get Antetokounmpo back, and he is fairly healthy, maybe they beat Phoenix. If they don’t get the two-time MVP back, winning an NBA title will be tough for Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo on Middleton: ‘We were like, get the hell out of the way, give him the ball’

After struggling with his shot in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks, Khris Middleton finally came alive at the right time, and that time was the fourth quarter of Game 3.

Middleton scored 20 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks defeated the Hawks 113-102 on Sunday night at State Farm Arena to take a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4 is on Tuesday night in Atlanta.

In the first two games of the series, Middleton, who also added 11 rebounds and seven assists on Sunday night, scored a combined 30 points, and he almost did that in the fourth quarter on Sunday night. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Middleton is the first Bucks player with 20 points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game over the last 25 postseasons.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, but tonight was about Middleton. 

“Some games it’s me, some games it’s Giannis(Antetokounmpo), some games it’s Jrue(Holiday),” Middleton said. “We all have a great feel about who has it going, who has the best matchup, and who can create the best looks. When it’s my turn or my time to have it, I’m thinking the same way: just try to get the best shot up for everybody.”

Antetokounmpo added on Middleton: “Greatness. Greatness. What I saw today was unbelievable. He was freaking unbelievable. Carried the team at the end. Man, like he turned the ball over two times, and after that, he was locked in and like “pass me the ball,” and we gave him the ball. There’s moments that is we know when to set screens for him, and we know when he wants the ball, and that was the moment. We were like, get the hell out of the way, give him the ball, take us home, Khris, and that’s what he did.”

Trae Young led the Hawks with 35 points and four assists, but he injured his ankle late in the third quarter after he stepped on referee Sean Wright’s foot. Young, who is expected to get an MRI on Monday, returned in the fourth quarter, but he was clearly limited. 

“It was really my blow-by speed,” Young said. “That’s a big part of my game, my ability to blow by anybody. When you’re on the left side, and you’re trying to blow by, you’ve got to use your right foot. So my left-hand pass to Bogey — I was going down the left side; it was in a lot of pain going back. Like I said, it’s more just the push-off and the blow-by….

“When I came back in, it was kind of sore. It made me mad I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted to, and when I did, it hurt. So I’ve just got to get treatment and hopefully get it better for the next game.”

If Young is not healthy, the Hawks don’t have a shot in this series. It’s a tough break for Young and the Hawks, but again, Game 3 was all about the greatness of Middleton. 

Khris Middleton on improved Bucks: ‘Individually, each one of us is better than last year'(VIDEO)

The Milwaukee Bucks are playing some good basketball right now. They have the best record in the NBA and have won nine of their last ten games, including defeating the Wizards 131-115 on Saturday night in Washington D.C.

Last season, with head coach Jason Kidd, who was fired midseason, and Joe Prunty, the interim head coach for the rest of the 2017-18 season, the Bucks won 44 games. After 51 games, Milwaukee has won 38 games.  The big difference could be the addition of head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had a lot of success during his time with the Hawks, which included a 60-win season in 2015.

“Bud Ball” allows players to take a lot of three-point shots, and the Bucks do just that. Milwaukee is second in three-point shots attempted and made, and according to first-time All-Star Khris Middleton, “Bud Ball” is one of the reasons the Bucks have had a lot of success thus far this season.

“It’s a whole different style of play,” Middleton told goforitradio’s Paul Gant. “Space out on the perimeter, our defense is much better, our offensive efficiency is much better; individually, each one of us is much better than last year, so when you add all those things up, things change and it’s been going to wins.”

Also, it does not hurt that Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 26.6 ppg, 12.5 rpg,  5.8 apg, is having an MVP-caliber season for Milwaukee.

We caught up with Middleton after the Bucks’ victory over the Wizards on Saturday night. He discussed the team, the last ten games, the Bucks as championship contenders, “Bud Ball,” and how he will handle All-Star weekend.

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