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With NBA Finals over, US trio turns focus to Olympic gold

Japan 2020

United States’ Devin Booker (15), center, steals the ball from Iran’s Behnam Yakhchalidehkordi (88), left, during men’s basketball preliminary round game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — There was plenty of time to talk about it, had they wanted to.

Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were together on a plane to Tokyo, just days after they had played in the hard-fought NBA Finals.

They had roughly nine hours in the air to relive details of that series, to revisit some of their memorable moments.

Booker and Middleton both had 40-point games in the series. Holiday provided a highlight that will be replayed in Milwaukee for years to come.

So, with all that time to kill on the way to the Olympics, how much talk was about the NBA Finals?

“There was actually none,” Middleton said. “We all respect each other.

“It was all about moving on and figuring out a way to get this job done here. To sit there and talk about the finals was not something that was on anybody’s mind.”

The series ended last Tuesday, when the Bucks won Game 6 to close out Booker’s Phoenix Suns. Middleton and Holiday took part in Milwaukee’s championship parade on Thursday, then flew the next day to Seattle, where they met up with Booker.

It was a whirlwind few days after a draining two-week series. And with the U.S. Olympic opener tipping off less than 24 hours after they landed in Japan, the flight was about the only rest the trio was going to get.

“I feel like me, Book and K-Midd just slept,” Holiday said.

Booker couldn’t be blamed if he didn’t want to talk to two guys who had been responsible for ruining his NBA championship dreams. But he reiterated that he could work with them, just as he could have had the Suns won.

“I said it during the series when we had this question. I have a lot of respect for those guys and when you’re competing at the highest level, it doesn’t always go your way,” Booker said. “But I’m a forward thinker and move onto the next thing and be able to take my ‘L’ and move on.”

That’s not always easy when players have to quickly go from foes to friends.

When Kevin Durant made his Olympic debut in 2012, he acknowledged the difficulty in seeing LeBron James every day so soon after Miami beat Oklahoma City in those NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant said then he didn’t know if he could’ve handled that, figuring if he was Durant he’d have needed to go at James in practice to help get over it.

Booker hasn’t forgotten his disappointment, but he’s not holding it against his new teammates — even after Holiday stole the ball from him and threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo in the final moments of Game 5 to swing the series Milwaukee’s way.

“We lost and that’s it, and I’m man enough to accept that and move on,” Booker said. “So, there’s no hate towards Jrue or K-Midd.”

Besides, there were much bigger concerns.

There’s some anxiety for anyone coming to an Olympics, wondering how things are going to work. That’s raised even more this year, with heightened protocols because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The three Americans had to worry about that while knowing they were going to have to play in a game without getting to practice with their team, or even shoot around much with the international basketball that is much different than the leather one used in the NBA.

“If we had a couple weeks to prepare a little bit I think we’d be more used to it, but feeling it for the first time on game day was definitely an adjustment,” Booker said.

It wasn’t a problem for Holiday, who led the Americans with 18 points in their 83-76 loss to France. Booker shot 1 for 6 and Middleton missed both his attempts.

But with a couple days of rest and practice, U.S. coach Gregg Popovich moved Holiday and Booker into the starting lineup Wednesday. Booker had 16 points, Middleton scored 10 and Holiday delivered another strong game in a 120-66 rout of Iran.

The opening loss could make things more difficult for the Americans, but Middleton and Holiday know about digging out of tough spots. The Bucks overcame 2-0 holes in the second round and then again in the NBA Finals.

The Americans, who never had their full team together until the eve of their first game, knew all along the road to gold wouldn’t be easy.

“So a lot of adversity and I feel like this is just something that we do a lot,” Holiday said. “And we’ll accomplish this too, just like we’ve accomplished everything before.”

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