Quotes: U.S. Men vs Australia
It was a very good win against another outstanding basketball team with great culture and great tradition. A team that executes wonderfully, coaching staff is right on top of everything that they're doing. They're like a machine. And that really bothered us starting the game. I think we were down 14 or 15, and they just sliced us and diced us. We looked like we had never played together before at the defensive end of the court, which in some respects was true I guess, now that I think about it. We've had to try to figure out on the fly here how to do it, and I thought in the last five minutes of the second quarter and the third quarter, we were very aggressive, we pressured well, understood that that's what it was going to take to beat a fine team like that. It fueled our offense, and we got it going pretty good then, so we're thrilled with the win. But as anybody would understand, there's still two good teams out there that have the same ambitions that we do.
After the game, Kevin Durant mentioned that you had been saying to the guys something about strong faces. When did you start saying that to them? And did it come up today? And what do you mean by that?
I copied that from Coach K. That's something he's been telling the Olympians for all the Olympic Games that he participated in as coach. And it's basically a play on the next play, that you don't react to a teammate’s turnover or referee’s call, or the fact that you missed a shot. Nobody cares. You don't have that right. You owe your team and you're responsible to your team to move on to the next play. And he called it strong faces. As simplistic as that sounds it's really true. So, we've tried to adopt that.
Did you have any real expectations of Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, knowing the challenges that those three specific players had, with no practice and with the real quick flight here and all that stuff?
I don't know exactly what you mean by expectations. They're all very good players. But what we talked about was, number one, we knew that the three of them would be in better shape than our team was, since they had gone through the (NBA) Finals, and our guys sat there during the summer and then came to camp. And we had the three practices before the prelims started. So, we were thrilled to have three guys that were in top condition to join us, obviously talented, but the jury was out on how they would all play together, because each one of them was used to scoring their 20 or 25, or 30, for their own teams, and everybody moves around them. And now they've got to instantly basically become role players. That's a huge transformation that I don't think people really understand. So, I really credit this group with having the intelligence and the understanding that we have to play differently. I don't know how many assists we had tonight. Not as many as usual – 19, nearly 28 last game. So, I thought we were in a little bit more of mud tonight moving the basketball, but Australia's defense had something to do with that, too. So, it taken some time to incorporate everybody into how we have to play at both ends, but they've been fantastic at believing in what we're saying and understanding, and that's the way it's got to be for this style of basketball.
How fun was it for you to watch Patty Mills this month, and how tough is it to say goodbye to him?
We've talked before about what a wonderful human being he is. He's a really unique player. ... But he has been special for the (San Antonio) Spurs, and he's moving on to Brooklyn now. And, we'll miss them a great deal. But I think it's a good move for him. He'll get to play for a team that's going to be a contender.
I'm thrilled with the victory, obviously, but when I looked him in the eyes, I felt badly, because they do have great camaraderie and great history and culture, as I said, and they want it just as badly as any of us. So, that was a little bit sad. But that's what we all do, right? We all try to win.
You haven't been through all that much yet. When this team falls behind the way it does, what do you know about them that kind of shows you they'll be able to find a way out of it?
From day one, I realized that they really wanted to be here. These guys all sacrificed. It was a tough season, with COVID and everything. It was just incredible to me that a couple of guys, like Khris Middleton, his wife gave birth, and he came the next day after the (NBA) Finals. Those are pretty big sacrifices. I guess more for his wife than for him now that I think about it. So, I'm going to take the credit away from him and give it to his wife. But you could tell that they wanted to be here. We wanted to make a statement. They wanted to play together. And we've, in limited practices, we’ve still worked very hard on what we have to do, and they haven't missed a beat. They've done everything we've asked. They've been so coachable. So, I just believe in them. I believe that they understand when they go down why. And if we go up, they understand that also.
It seems that you guys were very calm, even when you were down 15 points. Was this the same atmosphere in the timeout?
Yes, we were. We just tell the truth. We went down 15. I thought our defense was pretty poor. It kind of carried over to the offensive end, and we were sort of, each of us was going to save the day, and so the ball kind of stopped. And when we pointed it out, they reacted in the last five minutes of the second quarter they were fantastic, and it continued into the third. So, I give them credit for understanding the game as well as they do and being able to accept the truth. Because you can be with some players that you can tell them something, but they don't buy it. Because they can't handle certain kind of criticism. But these guys want the truth, and they react to it.
How important has it been for your guys to understand that it was never supposed to be easy?
All the players in the NBA now play with so many foreign players. Mabye 10 or 15 years ago, the NBA players didn't realize that, but they do now. They understand there are good players everywhere. But we started camp, we start with a little information about appropriate fear, we call it. And you need to have some appropriate fear of your opponent. And that's not fright, but it's a respect that allows you to have respect for your opponent. And before you prepare, you have to have that respect, or you're a little bit full yourself and it doesn't work the same way. So, these guys understood from the get go how the coaching staff respected other teams. And we watched film on it, and they've all seen that, and they know that there have been some close calls in the past years against a lot of these teams. And you have to bring it to win. They're all more experienced. They've all played together longer. They've developed their cultures. And we're starting a little bit behind the eight ball. And if we don't realize that and understand what it’s going to take, then you're in trouble.
Big win for us. Another slow start, which we talked about before the game, but it has a lot to do with the way Australia plays. A lot of talented guys in that group. But I think once we picked it up on the defensive end, it helped us out a lot as a team.
Kevin Durant really seems like he's into it. Could you give me your impressions of him? He seems to really be in the Olympic spirit, for lack of a better cliche, but do you get that sense as well?
100%. And that's not just on the court. We get that same spirit and that vibe and that energy from him off the court. He's been in the situation before, and he's leading us as such. So, I think these games are real meaningful to him and our whole team. So, he has been a great leader for us. We feed off what he does, and we feed off his energy. So, like you said, he didn't have to be here. He's done what he's done in the Olympic Games in the past, but for him to solidify himself and come here and be a leader, we feed off that energy.
It seems that you guys were very calm, even when you were down 15 points. Was this the same atmosphere in the timeout?
Just what coach said. Just understanding. We've been in plenty of games before, down plenty of points. So, understanding how the game works and understanding that you have to lock in. We said it before, it's a really talented Australia team, and we understand that. So obviously, getting down 15 points, you got to bring it up a notch, and that’s what we did.
Where does the confidence come from as you guys have erased these deficits?
We know teams are going to come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early and see how we respond. A lot of these guys got continuity for years and years, so they know how to play with each other. I feel like a lot of teams are expecting us to fold early. So, we stuck with it, stuck with our principles, made a couple scheme switches on defense, and we were able to get some momentum going to the half. Guys came out with that intensity, man, we made shots as well. So, I feel like everything aligned for us in that second half, and that's who we are.
This is your third straight gold medal game. How would you distinguish this experience from your others?
It is a different experience, different teammates. But the journey has been fun so far, and we are looking forward to this opportunity. It’s rare that guys come in and do it four straight times, especially after 2004, I think. It's a tough run for us, and for us to be back is exciting. So we are looking forward to seeing who we play first off and going out there and trying to finish.
You scored 30 points each in each of the last two gold medal games. What do you have cooked up for this one?
I'm looking forward to going out there and executing the game plan on defense. Offensively, I'm not worried about that. But just executing the game plan defensively as a team, and we'll see what happens.
You have played so many big games you rely on that experience when you're down 15?
We have all been down 15 in games before and came back. It don't matter what level it was at or where it was at. A lot of guys have been in a position before, and we know how to handle ourselves
But you looked different?
Me? I guess probably because we were focusing on me a little bit too much. We got a lot of guys on his team that had you know straight faces and were ready to play when we were down 15. Strong faces is what Pop (Gregg Popovich) says, and we kept our composure, and we knew that we could get back into the game pretty fast, if we got stops and got out and ran. So, you got to give credit to Australia, because they came and hit us with a nice haymaker, but we were able to get back up and get that lead back.
How does a gold medal game compare to all the close out games in the NBA Finals? Is there a difference?
I don’t like to compare anything. It just takes away from each of those moments. So, looking forward to this new experience, and we'll see what happens.
Did the experience this team has had with comebacks help with the win today?
I think we’ve played the game long enough to know that there's always a chance, especially the NBA game where anything can happen within six minutes. So, we took that six minutes in the second quarter and kind of ramped it up and went to halftime in a position that we liked.
What was the mood at halftime?
Pretty positive. We went in, and we weren’t down 15 anymore.
How hard will the wait be for the gold medal game?
I think it's just about preparing, honestly. Being mentally strong and just trying to prepare and lock into the team that we play against.
How is this process been for you? Is it harder than you expected it to be?
No. We respect our opponents. We respect every team here. A lot of these guys have played together for years and years. They come play FIBA, and Olympics and all these things all the time together. For us, we’re just putting a team together of a bunch of talented individuals trying to become a team in a short amount of time. I think now we’re starting to gel and become more of a team, and we’re starting to play better. But for me, I’m just embracing being a part of the team. We all go our separate ways for our NBA teams and we have major roles, and here sometimes you’re going to be the guy and sometimes it’s going to be another guy. But that’s the fun part of being a part of this.
Does the struggle make it more satisfying, knowing it hasn’t been necessarily easy?
Like I said, we respect our opponents, and you have to give credit to our opponents. You’re not just going to come over here and walk through teams. We’re here representing a lot of people, and so are these other teams, and they have a lot of pride about that. And that’s what they play with, a lot of pride and a lot of passion. So, you’re going to get teams’ best. We have a history of winning, so you have to know that you’re going to go up against some really competitive, fiery teams, and it is what it is. Like I said, we came here with one goal and that’s to win a gold medal, and now we’re in a position to do it.