EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns’ Devin Booker starts for Team USA in win over Iran at Olympics
In the span of a week, Devin Booker has wrapped up his playoff run with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals, flown to Tokyo to play in the Olympics, suited up against France less than 24 hours after that flight, and now, has started for Team USA.
Booker was in the starting lineup for Team USA in its 120-66 win over Iran Tuesday night. The win in pool play followed the Americans’ upset loss to France on Saturday.
Jrue Holiday and Booker replaced Zach LaVine and Draymond Green in the starting lineup. With the Americans as 40-point favorites over Iran, head coach Gregg Popovich could just be trying something out, but the lineup does provide more spacing and playmaking off the bounce.
Booker had 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal on 6-of-9 shooting in 19 minutes. He said after the victory that he got some great rest for the time between the first two games and felt a lot better on Tuesday compared to the opener.
Iran does not feature a current NBA player, but a former one Suns fans will be familiar with in 36-year-old Hamed Haddadi. Even with Haddadi’s best days behind him, his ability to get buckets still and hang in that regard showed the clear talent disparity. His teammates were dealing with the age-old problem of not being used to the level of athleticism and size the Americans possess, constantly turning the ball over and giving the United States free points.
The benefits of the new Team USA lineup were clear early, with the squad’s ball movement on point. Booker was clearly trying to push the pace more offensively and being more aggressive defensively, where Holiday was also using more full-court pressure.
“Everybody was themselves tonight,” Booker said. “We got a feel for each other and encouraged each other to go out there and play free. I think the first game, nobody wanted to step on each other’s toes and wanted to make sure everybody was involved but everybody came in with an aggressive mindset and it opened up a lot for each and every person.”
Popovich, as expected, opened up his rotation with a far more inferior opponent. Jerami Grant played in the early second quarter after not appearing against the French, as did JaVale McGee after a brief stint the game prior. That left Keldon Johnson as the only American to not get playing time in the first half.
Less defensive pressure and a, in general, more relaxed vibe from Team USA saw them calmly drill 3s. The United States reached 11 3s with 2:35 to go in the second quarter after hitting only 10 all game against France.
That could be adjusting to the FIBA basketball as well, one that NBA players who are not frequently in FIBA games aren’t used to, the thing that Booker called the biggest adjustment.
They led 60-30 at the half.
It wasn’t until the late third quarter when Iran had more field goals than turnovers after it really struggled to adjust. It was long, long over before that.
Team USA shot 19-of-39 (48.7%) on 3s, forced 23 turnovers and posted 34 assists on 42 made baskets. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 21 points.
Booker and his fellow countrymates wrap up group play on Saturday morning at 5 a.m. against the Czech Republic.