Australia's hopes for Olympic gold vanish against the US
SAITAMA, Japan (AP) - Gregg Popovich threw his arms around Australian Patty Mills when it was over, and even the US team coach was surprised at how the losing side must have felt last summer.
A medal was in Australia's hands. That is, until it was gone, in a chorus all too familiar to the Boomer program. They took a 15-point lead and watched helplessly as the US turned 23-point deficit en route to a 97-78 loss to the Americans in the Tokyo Olympics semifinals on Thursday.
Aussie gold medal hopes, gone again.
"I'm obviously happy with the win," said Popovich. “But when I looked him in the eyes, I felt bad because they have great camaraderie and great history and culture - and they wanted it as much as any of us, so that was a little sad. But that's all we all do, right? We're all trying to win. "
The hug ended, and with it Popovich and Mills headed in different directions on several fronts. Popovich goes to the gold medal game, Mills goes to the bronze medal match, and then leaves San Antonio - where he played for Popovich for a decade and was the last player on the Spurs' youngest NBA title team - for Brooklyn as a free agent.
"We will miss him very much," said Popovich. "But I think it's a good move for him."
Mills has refused to publicly address the ins and outs of free decision-making at the Tokyo Games, saying he would do nothing to divert focus from his primary goal of bringing the gold to Australia.
In the end, the Boomers weren't around.
Australia are now 0-11 in all-time games if they can pick up a medal in either the World Cup (formerly World Championships) or the Olympics. And that Australian core, which has always been together - Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova among the school principals - could no longer be together in two years for the World Cup ending in Manila or the Paris Olympics in 2024.
That was their chance. Thursday could have been her best chance. It was instantly gone.
"The more you are willing to commit yourself to something, the more you sacrifice for something, the more difficult it is to withdraw, to resign, to accept that," said Australia coach Brian Goorjian.
This was the fifth time Australia's men played in the Olympic semifinals, the fifth time that game was unilaterally lost - the 19-point gap on Thursday will fall as the closest of the five. The Boomers lost 26 to Serbia in 2016, France 24 in 2000, 28 in 1996, and 21 in Yugoslavia in 1988.
In some games for the bronze medal they were a little closer: these losses were 1, 6, 18 and 29 points. But that defeat had to bring back memories of the 2019 World Cup, where Australia had a 15 point lead in the bronze medal match against France - the same lead as on Thursday - and let it slip and then some in a total collapse.
In the middle of the second quarter it was Australia 41, USA 26.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter it was US 84, Australia 61. That corresponds to a 58-20 run in a period of about 18 minutes. Australia beat the Americans in one show in 2019, beat them again in another last month in Las Vegas, but is now 0-16 against the US men in FIBA competitions.
"We just couldn't find a groove defensively or offensively in the second half," said Australian Matisse Thybulle. "And they found theirs."
Now comes the not-so-easy task of regrouping. The bronze game is another chance.
"I'm not going to cry," said Goorjian. “I won't be sorry, I won't think of past demons. I'm excited. I was looking forward to today. I'll be more excited in 48 hours. And I know that my team will be. "
More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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