Mikal Bridges is helping Team USA regain its lead as it focuses squarely on gold

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - SEPTEMBER 05: Michal Bridge #5 of the United States walks to the bench after hitting a three-pointer in the second quarter during the FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup quarterfinal game against Italy at the Mall of Asia Arena on September 05, 2023 celebrated  Manila, Philippines.  (Photo by Yong Tak Lim/Getty Images)
Mikal bridges The United States celebrates going to the bench after hitting a 3-pointer in the second quarter during the FIBA ​​World Cup quarterfinal game against Italy at the Mall of Asia Arena on September 5, 2023 in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Yong Tak Lim/Getty Images)

MANILA, Philippines – Don’t let his arms, his hands hanging over his knees, and his reputation as a staunch defensive force fool you. Michael Bridges, a 27-year-old center for negotiations between Phoenix and Brooklyn for Kevin Durant Blockbuster — who scored 45 points in his second home game at Barclays Center — has extras that separate the main characters from the supporting cast.

Every night is the same Mikal. “He has that mindset, no matter what.” Jalen Branson, the starting point guard for Team USA and Bridges’ college teammate at Villanova. He can do it all. “I saw it from the first day I met him.”

The fatal bridge switch caused Memphis Grizzlies For offering up four staggering first-round picks to acquire him at the February trade deadline, league sources told Yahoo Sportsboth before Phoenix sent Bridges east and after Brooklyn received every offer for his services.

Bridge was clearly on the mend Tuesday against Italy at the Mall of Asia Arena, moving downhill and sniping from deep for 11 second-quarter points en route to a game-high 24. , Team USA led by 24 in the second frame — as much as 41 overall — and to 110-63 victory in the quarter-finals of the FIBA ​​World Cup.

“We’re all ready to make that shot, make that play,” Bridges said. “It’s never going anywhere. We just got dogs in the locker room, man. We all know what we can do. We can all shoot, dribble, pass, defend, everything. “

Bridges bent over after the one-and-one, his move so aggressive that a referee had to wrap him in a bear hug rather than let Bridges roll over the defenseless referee. As Italy opened the third quarter in a 3-2 zone, Anthony Edwards first punctured the layup with a step-back triple from the left corner. subsequent ownership, Josh Hart He drilled a long ball from exactly the same spot. On Team USA’s third trip down the court, it was Bridges’ turn to pick up where he left off in the first half, draining a 3-pointer from the left corner as well, then turning to the Italian bench and registering a three-pointer. He shot himself. Celebration in the opposite pine

He was whistled for a technical foul. So Bridges’ next touch, after the free throws, after Italy instead created a 2-3 zone, he hit a triple from the right wing. This time, he hid his emotions as he dropped back on defense, offering a knowing grin to the Americans’ offensive line. The bridges didn’t need any weapons at all. He was the foot that hit the throat of the Italians.

Team USA simply returned to the field after their first loss of the summer with a different alchemy. I think maybe a little more anger? said Tyrese HalliburtonHe finished with 18 points and 5 assists. “Obviously I’m angry about the loss and I don’t want to feel that way again.”

“This loss woke us up” Paolo Banchero addition

Halliburton has racked up some amazing coins throughout this tournament, and is constantly itching for the next highlight. When a whistle blows a dazzle or halts a fast-paced contest, the All-Star Pacers scream in frustration at the missed opportunity for another fiery finish. So Halliburton took the baton from Bridges when he and Banchero’s trap up the middle late in the third quarter gave him and the Rookie of the Year a runway. He leapt to the stands, bent the rock through his legs and lofted a meatball for Banchero, a Seattle native who idolized Jamal Crawford, to end the former Lube City man’s old streak.

“I thought he was going to throw it off the backboard,” Banchero said. “I was getting ready to do a fantasy dunk. I was getting ready in my head.” Instead of the 360 ​​that was already spinning in the magic man’s mind, Banchero rose to clear a powerful two-handed jam. Halliburton bounced happily, as if he were on a trampoline instead of the hardwood. As the scoreboard read zeroes And the backboard was framed in red light, the USA’s packed bench emptied, the LED screens in front of them soared and started hitting each other like bowling pins. They led by 29 with 12 minutes to go. The end of the game was left.

When the team stood up Austin Reeves He was able to hammer home a missed triple in the first half. The 12-man roster shouted nicknames and inside jokes as they walked off the field, through the postgame media mixed area and into the locker room. They’ve put together a complex secret handshake for a unit that expires in just five days, so they hope, after Sunday’s gold-medal game.

These are the moments that create lasting connections and sew the bonds that will later form teams of future stars in the world’s loudest league. Like Durant and Kyrie Irving And DeAndre Jordan. Like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Like Damian LillardAspired to be the next All-Star to join Miami Heatwhere he could team up with a former Olympic teammate roof Adebayo

This is what Team USA is supposed to look like when it’s fully assembled. This is the American team, which is known as the contender for the championship in the World Cup.

“When you compete and play with that kind of energy and drive the ball, like Tyers, like Anthony Edwards moving the ball early, it’s just contagious,” head coach Steve Kerr said.

Sunday marked the Americans’ top defensive performance by a mile or so. They converted 14 turnovers into 25 points. After losing to Montenegro and then Lithuania, Team USA outscored the smaller Italians 51-33 and limited their first-round opponent to just three second-chance points.

Up next: Friday’s date against the winner of Wednesday’s match between Germany, third at last summer’s EuroBasket, and underdog Latvia, who are playing without homegrown star Kristaps Porzisis. It doesn’t matter that Banchero’s super teammate, Franz Wagner, could effectively return from an ankle injury that sidelined him for much of the World Cup, regardless of the lackluster story the Latvians have written, Team USA is suddenly on track as champions. Both clubs are placed. Ready to celebrate whatever comes on their plate, and either Serbia – who knocked Lithuania out of contention in impressive fashion – Slovenia or Canada come out on the other side of this final bracket.

“We’re a horse going back to the barn,” Kerr said. The horse starts to gallop when he feels that he is near the barn. This is what is happening right now. “Our kids feel like it’s the end of the journey and the energy is taken.”

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