EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker makes Olympic debut in same week as Suns’ NBA Finals exit

Jul 25, 2021, 8:10 AM | Updated: Jul 26, 2021, 8:00 am
Devin Booker #15 of Team United States looks on during the first half of their Men's Preliminary Ro...
Devin Booker #15 of Team United States looks on during the first half of their Men's Preliminary Round Group B game against Team France on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on July 25, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Ever played basketball with jet lag, less than 24 hours after a long travel day? How about at the Olympic level?

Being a part of Team USA is all about new experiences for Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker, and he got one on Sunday evening in Tokyo.

Booker had four points, two rebounds, three assists, a steal and two turnovers in a reserve role for the Americans’ 83-76 loss to France, the first game of Olympic competition in pool play for Team USA. He, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton all arrived in Tokyo the night before the team’s first game after competing against each other in the NBA Finals.

Given some of the early issues for Gregg Popovich’s squad in exhibition play and losing two players, it wasn’t a surprise to see the San Antonio Spurs head coach include Booker, Holiday and Middleton in his rotation, even though they had just arrived in Japan.

Booker came off the bench in place of starting point guard Damian Lillard, forming a bench backcourt with Holiday.

His first Olympic points came on a jumper in the second quarter.

Team USA started Zach LaVine alongside Lillard, a spot that was surely penciled in for Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards before he couldn’t travel to Tokyo because of health and safety protocols. Once Booker is more acclimated, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take that spot. He’s the better all-around player at just about everything, including defensively.

Booker was very active on that end, as we’ve come to expect from him.

The Americans had a bit more ball and player movement than usual after going through some slogs in exhibition, and that’s an area where Booker can really help the team with his work in Monty Williams’ 0.5 offense.

The loss for the United States was the first for them in Olympic play since 2004. They will wrap up play in Group A with Iran and the Czech Republic, two squads the USA will be heavily favored against.

With eight teams advancing to the bracket, if the Americans beat those two emphatically, they can still get a favorable matchup in the draw for the quarterfinal matchups as the best second-place team among the three groups. The top teams for Groups A, B and C, plus that squad get placed in one pot for the draws, with the other four spots being the two other second-place teams and the two best third-place squads.

Kevin Durant (4-of-12), Lillard (3-of-10) and Jayson Tatum (3-of-9) all struggled, as USA’s offense continues to be a concern after signs of it in exhibition play. France’s Evan Fournier led all scorers with 28 points, a nice moment for him right before unrestricted free agency.

The United States got strong two-way contributions from Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green and Holiday. Adebayo contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds and Holiday posted a team-high 18 points.

Durant was in foul trouble and USA’s reliance on him offensively was glaring once again, where a solid advantage in the first half disappeared once Durant exited with four fouls midway through the third quarter. He and a few of his teammates were dealing with a common problem for stars adjusting to international play, finding no balance between trying to be too unselfish at times and also forcing up shots.

The Americans were down two with under a minute left and got five shots on one possession that included wide-open misses from 3 by Durant and Holiday. Booker’s assist to Lavine in the video above was the Americans’ last field goal of the game, preceding a final 4:21 USA stretch with zero field goals and four points.

A tremendous shooting team on paper that generated good looks managed just a 10-for-32 (31.2%) number.

Booker’s next showing for Team USA will be against Iran on Tuesday at 9:40 p.m.

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