EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker flips emotionally from Finals loss to Team USA starting role

Jul 28, 2021, 9:24 AM
Iran's Hamed Haddadi (15), left, prepares to pass over United States' Devin Booker (15) during men'...

Iran's Hamed Haddadi (15), left, prepares to pass over United States' Devin Booker (15) during men's basketball preliminary round game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Devin Booker late last Tuesday night was living the raw emotions of the missed opportunity. Hours before he took a flight to Japan where he would join USA Basketball in Tokyo, he was processing a Game 6 NBA Finals loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Late this Tuesday night, he was making his first start in his second game as a member of the United States men’s national squad.

For an American team that’d shown flaws — at the very least because of the reality that its talented members were assembled to play on a roster constructed just for this event — a 120-66 win over Iran that ended before midnight Arizona time on Tuesday couldn’t have gone much better.

Booker, and Jrue Holiday of those Finals-winning Bucks, were inserted into coach Gregg Popovich’s starting lineup alongside Bam Adebayo, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, and Booker finished second on the team in scoring.

He put in 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go with three steals and five rebounds in only 19 minutes of play.

“The past couple nights got some great rest, so obviously this game felt a lot better than the last one,” Booker said via Zoom.

“I think that’s the adjustment, the biggest adjustment is adjusting to the ball. If we had a couple weeks to prepare I think we’d be more used to it.”

It was Booker’s first media session since arriving in Tokyo, where he flipped the switch from accepting and taking on a Finals loss to helping the Americans chase gold.

He was peppered with questions about making the historic trip hours after losing in the Finals, one that was necessary due to the pandemic-impacted sports calendar. It hasn’t just been the media reminding Booker about his unique emotional position.

The Suns guard admitted he’s had talks with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green about how difficult it is to return to the NBA Finals after taking a loss.

“The opportunity we had a week ago will never go away,” Booker said. “Even if (we) end up getting one later down the line, you’ll look back at the one you lost and said what it could have been.

“It’s something you got to learn from, you have to build from and take in and use as motivation. It’s not going to be easy to ever get the opportunity to be there again. It’s all a part of the journey, the process.”

Booker said there remain memories but no hard personal feelings as he now teams with Holiday and the point guard’s Milwaukee teammate, Khris Middleton.

To hit the ground running, he watched Team USA’s exhibition games in the middle of the NBA Final series. Those included losses to Nigeria and Australia before wins against Argentina and Spain.

The Americans opened the Olympics in the group stage with a loss to France on Sunday.

“Got a feel for each other and encouraged each other to play free,” Booker said of the win against Iran. “I think the first game nobody wanted to step on each other’s toes … big improvement from the first game.”

Between the needed sleep and the games in the short week since arriving in Tokyo, Booker hasn’t even visited the Olympic village — the basketball team is staying elsewhere. Team USA did take in the United States women’s 3X3 win against France on Tuesday after their Iran game and is expected to watch the women’s national squad play.

Otherwise, Booker has kept things as close as usual to his routine.

“I play Call of Duty, man, so I got my system out here,” he said. “I’m sneaking in some good War Zone time and Verdansk with my fellas. The time difference kind of has us all over the place, but we find time to link up with each other.”

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