The Milwaukee Bucks will raise their 2021 title banner and receive their championship rings on Tuesday, just before a season opener against a Brooklyn Nets team missing a star player they hoped would deliver silverware to their franchise.

Milwaukee defeated Brooklyn in a seven-game Eastern Conference semi-finals series en route to their first NBA title in 50 years last term.

It was an engrossing series in which Milwaukee prevailed largely due to their superior health, the Nets' cause hindered by injury struggles for James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

And they will again be minus Irving for the season opener in Wisconsin, though for a markedly different reason.

Irving's refusal to receive a coronavirus vaccine, and the fluctuations in his ability that would cause with mandates in major cities preventing unvaccinated individuals from entering public spaces, led the Nets to decide he will not play for the team until the issue is resolved.

As a result, much of the burden will again fall on Kevin Durant, though he will at least have the assistance of Harden, as the Nets aim to get a measure of revenge on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

Even with Irving out of the picture, the Nets look set to contend with the Bucks for superiority in the East, and this encounter may provide an early indication of which team has the upper hand in 2021-22.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday 

While Antetokounmpo is the man around whom everything revolves for the Bucks, he receives substantial support from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

It is the latter who is the chief facilitator for Milwaukee. Holiday's 10.5 assists per 48 minutes last postseason ranked fifth among players to play in at least 10 playoff games.

The Bucks will look for him to have a similar influence on their title defence, starting with the visit of the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets – James Harden

Harden was in the MVP conversation last season until a hamstring issue derailed his campaign.

His one full regular-season appearance against the Bucks saw him post a double-double with 34 points and 12 assists.

With Irving unavailable, getting that kind of performance from Harden would be critical to the Nets' hopes of opening the season on a high.

 

KEY BATTLE – Giannis vs. KD

Though both teams have plenty of depth at their disposal, the unquestioned headline act of the season opener will be the heavyweight matchup between Antetokounmpo and Durant.

Last season, the All-Star duo definitely brought out the best in each other.

In 10 games against the Nets across the regular season and postseason, Antetokounmpo only once scored fewer than 30 points. He averaged 61.5 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes and had an effective field goal percentage of 57.9.

In three of those games, Durant went over 40 points, with the two-time Finals MVP averaging 58.5 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes and posting an effective field goal percentage of 55.6.

However, Durant's plus-minus across all meetings with the Bucks was minus 18 compared to plus 26 for Antetokounmpo, perhaps speaking to his lack of support in the postseason.

With Harden in his corner for this contest, Durant will hope to flip the script in that regard and spoil the Bucks' celebration.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Bucks will be confident they have the edge after their postseason defeat of the Nets and also won each of their home games against Brooklyn last season. A momentous night of celebration for Milwaukee is not the time to let their advantage slip.

The NBA and its leading stars will hope the coming regular season is exactly that: regular.

The past two have not been. In 2019-20, the season was paused for the coronavirus pandemic and resumed in Orlando, in a bubble and without crowds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was at least able to put forward his claims for a second straight MVP honour prior to that point.

In 2020-21, a rapid turnaround from the playoffs appeared to catch some leading men out, before the brutal 72-game December-to-May calendar saw a number of top performers face spells on the sidelines.

As a result, Nikola Jokic was the clear MVP candidate, outstanding for the Denver Nuggets but crucially also one of just 11 players across the league to play in all 72 games. His 2,488 minutes trailed only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle (2,667) and RJ Barrett (2,511).

With a proper preseason to plan – and the Nuggets hurt by Jamal Murray's injury – it seems unlikely Jokic will defend his title.

But which players are most likely to follow his lead and move clear of the rest in the coming months? Stats Perform breaks down the chances of the MVP favourites.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Having claimed back-to-back MVP Awards, Antetokounmpo entered preseason last year as the favourite again and threatened for a time to contend, averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. A six-game lay-off in April, immediately after scoring 47 points in Portland, put paid to those hopes.

However, it would have been tough for voters to justify again picking Antetokounmpo regardless. At that stage, he had won only three playoff series in his entire career. By contrast, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird – the three men previously honoured three years in a row – each celebrated at least one championship across the first two seasons of their respective runs.

It is very different now, though. Although Antetokounmpo would become only the ninth player to take the Maurice Podoloff Trophy on three occasions, there is less daunting historical precedent with the lean year in between. Crucially, too, the 'Greek Freak' is now himself a champion.

 

Antetokounmpo was the Milwaukee Bucks' Finals MVP as they won their first title in 50 years. Rather than regress in the playoffs – his points average had dipped from the regular season in four of his five prior postseason campaigns – the 26-year-old forward scaled new heights, taking more responsibility with a career-high 20.9 field goal attempts per game and being rewarded with 30.2 points.

Now embracing his strengths, taking only 3.3 shots from three-point range in the postseason and shooting 73.6 per cent at the rim, Antetokounmpo should have the confidence to kick on again.

Luka Doncic

It is Doncic, not Antetokounmpo, who has been installed as the early favourite this year. The Slovenian is only entering his fourth season, but it feels about time he truly established himself as a future great.

Doncic was one of those who acknowledged he was "not in my best shape" as the 2020-21 season promptly got under way, and the Dallas Mavericks were an underwhelming 8-12 at the end of January, although the point forward still averaged 27.4 points over that slow early period. He then weighed in with 30.3 points across 12 games in February.

Only four players bettered Doncic's 1,830 points come the end of the year, yet he could still be a little more consistent in pursuit of a regular-season award. The 22-year-old has set an astonishing standard on the biggest stage. While waiting on a first series win, his 33.5 playoff points are the most by any player to feature in at least 13 career games. Doncic's 143 points at the Tokyo Olympics led the tournament.

If Dallas can be competitive from the outset, Doncic's game is certainly a good fit for individual recognition, his 2020-21 usage rate of 36.0 per cent the highest among players with 500 or more possessions. Similarly dominant for Slovenia, his 57 assists and 196 minutes also topped the charts at the Olympics.

New coach Jason Kidd will ask "young Picasso" Doncic to share the ball around a little more this year, though, saying: "As a coach, I don't know if anybody told Picasso that he had to use all the paints. But I just want to remind Luka that he can rely on his team-mates, and his team-mates are going to be there to help him."

He added: "We know that it's easy to get the ball to Luka, but the one thing we do want to get accomplished is other guys as playmakers so come the fourth quarter Luka is fresh and is ready to deliver." Some more big moments – Luka's 93 clutch points ranked 21st last year – would certainly help Doncic's cause.

Stephen Curry

The Los Angeles Lakers' new 'big three' – we will come to the Brooklyn Nets shortly – is likely to help title hopes but hinder MVP bids. Russell Westbrook's relentless regular-season efforts, averaging 34.4 per cent usage over the past seven seasons, might take some of the shine away from LeBron James. Curry does not have that problem.

As last year, when he had the next-most first-place votes after Jokic (albeit just five to 91), the Golden State Warriors are set to be hugely reliant on Curry – at least until fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is back from injury.

In his first full season since Kevin Durant left and Thompson went down, Curry set his stall out early with 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers but saved his best for the end of the year, averaging 36.9 points after a tailbone injury in March to take a second scoring title. The two-time MVP could not quite do enough to carry the Warriors through the play-in round.

A young supporting cast is now another year older, however, meaning Golden State should be competitive enough to keep Curry in the limelight without having enough talent to distract from his displays.

Only Thompson's return is likely to alter the pattern of play after Curry set career highs in points (32.0), rebounds (5.5), field goal attempts (21.7), three-point attempts (12.7), foul line visits (6.3) and usage rate (34.7). He scored a league-high 24.6 per cent of the Warriors' points.

 

Kevin Durant

Durant, like James, was set to merely be the biggest star on a team of stars until the complications around Kyrie Irving's status arose. As it stands, Irving will not feature for the Nets due to his refusal to get a coronavirus vaccine that would allow him to play home games.

Of course, Brooklyn also have James Harden, who briefly flirted with the MVP picture last year prior to a hamstring injury, but Durant will be the team's go-to as long as he stays on the court.

Although Durant made only 32 starts in 35 games in 2020-21, he led the Nets in points per game (26.9) and usage rate (31.1). Irving ranked second in both categories (also 26.9 points per game, 30.5 per cent usage).

The former Warrior is now another year on from his awful Achilles injury and gave an indication in the playoffs of the player he can still be. Playing in all 12 games, unlike Harden and Irving, Durant scored an outstanding 34.3 points – a league best among those to play 10 or more games. Only a borderline call on a Durant shot in Game 7 against the Bucks ended Brooklyn's campaign.

With or without Irving, the Nets are expected to contend for the title this time. Durant was Finals MVP in his two championship triumphs in 2017 and 2018 but has only a single regular season award, back in 2013-14. If he is back to his best, as would appear to be the case, the 33-year-old could dominate the coming season from start to finish.

Joel Embiid

Should, as this list suggests, voters look for players who are capable of putting their teams on their backs, Embiid's case has only got stronger.

The big man was already the Philadelphia 76ers' key performer, evidenced by their 39-12 record with him in the team last year compared to 10-11 when he was missing. Indeed, had Embiid not been absent for such a number of games, he might well have pipped Jokic to the top individual award.

Jokic clearly had the edge as a creator, his 8.3 assists per game allowing him to tally 16 triple-doubles, Embiid actually averaged more points (28.5 to 26.4) and his prowess on defense (including 1.4 blocks per game) contributed to far superior numbers in terms of plus/minus (7.9 to 5.3) and defensive rating (103.1 to 109.2).

 

Ben Simmons, the Sixers' second man, was already underwhelming last year, and Embiid's responsibilities on both ends of the floor are set to increase due to the uncertainty surrounding his team-mate.

Even if Simmons sticks around, as is now a possibility, this is clearly Embiid's team. He felt it had not been previously, responding to reports Simmons was unhappy with the dynamic by saying: "I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs." Those claims were "disappointing" and "borderline kind of disrespectful", Embiid added.

He will certainly not be lacking motivation now to put his injury woes behind him, enjoy another outstanding season and claim the MVP award that evaded him last year.

Kevin Durant is confident a resolution can be found amid Kyrie Irving's refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 that is preventing him practising or playing with the Brooklyn Nets.

New York City has a mandate in place, which states NBA players must have had a jab to protect against coronavirus.

Irving stated this week he is neither pro nor anti-vaccination and has respect for both sides of the argument, but as yet he has not had at least one shot, which is the minimum required for him to play home games at the Barclays Center and in fixtures at Madison Square Garden where the New York Knicks play.

The Nets decided Irving will have no involvement with the team until he complies with the rules, but Durant – who joined alongside his team-mate as a free agent in 2019 – is optimistic a resolution will be found.

Speaking after the Nets completed their pre-season duties with a 107-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Durant said: "I definitely want Kyrie to be around.

"I wish none of this stuff would happen, but this is the situation that we are in. Kyrie made his decision on what he wanted to do and he chose to do what he wanted to do, and the team did the same.

"It's on me to just focus on me, and do my job, and let those two parties handle that situation. I want our whole team together, and I want us to be at full strength, but sometimes it don't work out that way. But I am still positive that things will work out the best for both parties."

Durant is not upset over Irving's decision, though he acknowledged the situation is not ideal for a star-studded Nets team with championship aspirations.

"We still get to do [what] we love to do every day. This is not the ideal situation coming into the season but some of this, it's out of our control," he added.

"So, what we can do is come in and focus on our jobs every single day. What is being mad going to do?

"We are not going to change his mind, know what I'm saying? We'll let him figure out what he needs to do and the team figure out what they need to do.

"I can't be too mad at somebody making a decision for themselves.

"Who am I to get upset at that? Just focus on what we got in this locker room. When [Irving] is ready, I am sure he will talk to [team owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks] and they'll figure it out and they'll tell us. Until then we are going to keep grinding."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant envisions Kyrie Irving being part of the NBA championship contenders this season but admitted if he misses games his quality will be hard to "duplicate".

Irving has not trained with the Nets in New York this week as part of the city's COVID-19 protocols that only allows players with at least one vaccination shot to practice and play.

Nets star Irving faces missing all of Brooklyn's home matches in the 2021-22 season, which gets underway against reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks on October 19, if his vaccination status does not change.

The drawn-out situation has created a major distraction for title favourites the Nets, who bowed out to eventual champions the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season.

"I'm envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team," Durant told reporters after Wednesday's practice. "Maybe I'm just naive, but that is just how I feel.

"But I think everybody here has that confidence in themselves, in our group, that if we keep building, we can do something special."

Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the 2020-21 season where he played 54 times.

The Nets struggled to find continuity with their big three, Irving, Durant and James Harden, who joined from the Houston Rockets in January, on the court due to injuries but that seemed set to change after injury-free pre-seasons ahead of the new campaign.

"I mean he's a special player so it is going to be hard to duplicate what he brings," former MVP Durant said.

"But professional sports are about the next man up mentality so we are looking forward to guys stepping up and filling in that role as best as they can."

Durant and the Nets have tried to insist the Irving situation is not a distraction, although the 33-year-old forward said he would not get involved in his team-mate's decision-making.

The Golden State Warriors faced a similar situation last week with Andrew Wiggins under the San Francisco city laws, although he opted to get his first vaccination ending the discussion.

"He is dealing with something personal right now and while he is dealing with that, we are going to focus on us here in the gym and keep working," Durant said. "When they are ready to figure that out, he'll figure it out."

Durant added: "I want him a part of this group. He's a special player. We want him a part of this group. But a lot of stuff is out of our control and we will let him figure that out for himself.

"It doesn't mean that I will say that I don't want him on the team. He's a huge part of what we do but guys got to step up in his absence and be who they are and move forward.

"I'm not really trying to get too involved in it. It's far bigger than myself and each one of us individually. This is one man's personal decision on his wellbeing."

Kevin Durant and Draymond Green blamed Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and the franchise's management for mishandling the pair's infamous on-court spat, which led to the former leaving the team.

Durant and Green were involved in a heated verbal exchange against the Los Angeles Clippers in November 2018, with the argument reportedly continuing in the locker room post-game.

Green was suspended for one game by the Warriors as a result.

Durant eventually departed the Warriors via free agency at the end of the season, joining the Brooklyn Nets.

Warriors team-mates from 2016 to 2019 – winning two NBA championships, Durant and Green spoke about the incident.

"It wasn't the argument," Durant said on Bleacher Report show 'Chips' when asked how much the argument contributed in his decision to leave Golden State.

"It was the way that everybody -- Steve Kerr -- acted like it didn't happen. [General manager] Bob Myers tried to just discipline you [Green] and think that would put the mask over everything."

Green recalled: "'Y'all are about to f*** this up. I said, 'The only person that can make this right is me and K [Durant]. And there is nothing that y'all can do, and y'all are going to f*** this up.' And in my opinion, they f***** it up."

"I think so too," responded Durant, who averaged 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists with the Warriors in 2018-19 before suffering an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Durant added: "I remember watching 'The Last Dance,' and when Scottie [Pippen] didn't go into the game, the whole team in the locker room said, 'Scottie, that was f***** up that you did that.'

"We needed that. We just needed to throw all of that s*** on the table and say, 'Yo Dray, K, that was f***** up that we even had to go through that.'

"Let's just wipe our hands with that and go finish the task. ... I didn't think we did that. We just tried to dance around it. I just didn't like, just the vibe between all of that, it just made s*** weird to me."

Brooklyn Nets forward Blake Griffin says there is a sense of "unfinished business" within the roster ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season.

The star-studded Nets bowed out of the NBA playoffs to eventual champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the Eastern Conference semi-finals 4-3.

Brooklyn were not helped by injuries to two, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, of their 'Big Three' down the stretch.

The Nets had been earmarked as title favourites following the acquisition of Harden from the Houston Rockets in January, with six-time NBA All-Star Griffin joining for the Detroit Pistons in March, and the latter said there was unfinished business after falling short.

"We obviously didn’t accomplish what we wanted," Griffin said during a video news conference. "You can say injuries, but every team had injuries.

"We feel like there’s definitely unfinished business. There’s something bigger that we want to achieve, and I still want to be a part of that."

Griffin, who became the first player in free agency to re-sign earlier this week, was confident the Nets can claim the NBA championship.

“Yeah, I think so. I think so," he said. "Obviously there’s a lot of work to do, a lot of work to be done.

"Can’t take anything for granted. But I like our team. I like the guys we have, I like our coaching staff, I like everything we’ve put together. I believe in us."

Star forward Kevin Durant re-committed to the Nets earlier this week on a bumper four-year extension believed to be worth $198million.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Griffin, who is now 32, added that Durant's extension helped him decide to ink a minimum one-year deal.

"I mean, obviously, it’s comforting to know that the guy of that caliber is locked in," Griffin said. "KD’s kind of like that piece that brought everything together."

Brooklyn have also added guard Patty Mills from the San Antonio Spurs, fresh from leading Australia to a breakthrough bronze medal at Tokyo 2020.

"Patty adds just dynamic shooting," Griffin said. "That’s always a need for us, but also just a veteran point guard who playing against him, it seems like he’s always like that guy that comes up with a big play, - defense, offense, whatever - hits a big shot.

"He’s also a guy that can facilitate and you know, get in the teeth of defense makes the right decisions. Just a really good basketball player."

Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks says he expects to have James Harden and Kyrie Irving join Kevin Durant in re-signing with the franchise ahead of their training camp.

The Nets, who were beaten 4-3 by eventual NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference semi-finals last season, will be hold their pre-season training camp next month.

Durant, who last Saturday won gold at Tokyo 2020, recently re-committed to Brooklyn on a four-year deal.

Marks confirmed the Nets are in talks to extend the contracts of Irving and Harden, as they look to lock down their 'Big Three'.

“I feel very confident that first day of training camp we’ll be looking at those three in particular being signed, sealed and delivered and being part of the Brooklyn Nets for a long time to come,” Marks said in Wednesday's video conference.

"We're having those conversations with them. I think there's no immediate hurry to get any of these guys done in terms of the first day of free agency. These are opportunities for us to sit down, break bread together, meet with Joe Tsai [Nets owner] and really get on the same page."

Marks said that Durant's extension was "straight-forward", labelling the forward's decision to extend as "franchise changing".

“Kevin was honestly extremely straightforward, and very upfront about ‘I want to be here, this is it, get it done, and I want to get it done immediately.’ I don't blame him," Marks said.

"It was obviously very important for us. I can't tell you how important it was, and this is franchise changing when you can lock a person like Kevin up and he wants to commit to being here for the foreseeable future."

Marks also offered updates on both Irving and Harden who missed periods of the playoffs with injuries.

Harden, 31, battled a hamstring injury in the regular season which recurred during the playoffs, while Irving suffered an ankle sprain in Game 4 of the Bucks series and did not return.

“I've James working out, I've seen some videos of him and he's really trending in the right direction," Marks said. "Looks great, has really devoted himself this summer to rehabbing one the hamstring and just getting himself into top basketball shape.

"I was with Kyrie yesterday... It was a bad ankle sprain, there's no question there, so that set him back, but he's recovering and he's progressing well and is back in the gym and I have no doubt by the time training camp rolls around and even prior to that the guys will be together and be live on the court together playing and working out.

"But from a health standpoint no reason to be concerned about either one.”

Draymond Green turned on Team USA's critics after landing another basketball gold medal at the Olympic Games, saying: "Somebody needs to teach these people some loyalty."

A sketchy start to the Tokyo 2020 mission was followed by steady improvement from Gregg Popovich's team, and an 87-82 win over France in Saturday's final tied up a fourth successive gold-winning campaign.

Pre-tournament losses to Australia and Nigeria hinted at teething problems in fusing together a new-look squad, and an early-group stage loss to France only fuelled doubts that this side might come up short.

But the United States team came good when it mattered, fending off a France side who kept coming back for more in the gold game. 

Golden State Warriors power forward Green has now played on two of the Americans' triumphant men's basketball Olympic teams, and he was keen to hit out at what he called "a lot of doubters".

"You turn on American sports talk, TV, or whatever, and you got guys like Kendrick Perkins doubting us," Green said.

Perkins, 36, is a former NBA championship winner with the Boston Celtics who now works as a television game analyst and commentator.

"Somebody needs to teach these people some loyalty. How about you cheer for your country?" Green said.

"When a guy doesn't play they say, 'Oh you need to represent your country', and then you lose, hit a little bump in the road, and everybody is mad in America. You are an American too, act like it.

"Do your job. I do some media stuff, I understand doing your job, but when you talk about a special group, you better be sure you are right, and a lot of people got it wrong.

"And trust me, I will be posting those guys, I'll be posting everyone I find who said something. No one holds anyone accountable any more, but I will."

 

Kevin Durant was the driving force behind the USA's success, scoring a game-high 29 points in the final and being a powerful presence during the tournament.

Like others, Green said that Durant "carried" the team, but he also pointed to the efforts of Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday as being significant.

"It's a challenge to do special things," Green said. "I know it seems as if it has come easy for so long, but I played in 2016. It wasn’t easy then, it wasn’t easy this year.

"If it's worth having, you have to fight for it. We fought, they fought, I think the better team came out with the gold medal."

With families unable to join the team in Tokyo, and the Games coming on the back of a taxing NBA season, Green suggested this was a win to savour perhaps more than the Rio success, where there were no issues as imposing as the ongoing COVID restrictions.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't take either one for granted, but this one feels sweet," Green said. "It feels a lot sweeter."

Kevin Durant said it felt "incredible" after he won a third gold medal and helped Team USA reach four in a row at the Olympics.

The men's basketball tournament looked primed for a potential shock when the United States team lost to France in their opening group game at Tokyo 2020, yet it came full circle as victory over the same opposition in Saturday's final tied up another success at the Games.

The USA won 87-82 against a French side who gave them trouble all game long, but a game-high 29 points from Durant carried Gregg Popovich's team to top spot on the podium.

"I'm so proud of this team," Durant said. "The coaching staff prepared us so well every single day, even some days when we didn't feel like practising but it was worth it at the end. I’m so glad. I’m ready to go home and celebrate.

"I love our country and this team is just amazing, it’s just incredible.

"How we came together. The adversity that we went through, so many people doubting us early on too. We get that support from our families, our friends, you know it’s bigger than us. We wanted to come here finish it and look alive."

Pre-Olympics defeats to Australia and Nigeria, followed by the France loss when competition began, hinted at major shortcomings in Popovich's ranks.

A host of withdrawals from the planned original roster meant this was a depleted team, but Durant proved to be a driving force throughout the tournament.

"This one feels good because we went through a lot," said the Brooklyn Nets superstar.

"We had a lot of first-time guys on the team, new experience for everyone on the team, COVID, the kind of bubble we were in, no fans, no one expecting us to lose.

"We heard it all over the past few weeks about our team. To fight through this adversity against a great team like these guys ... to come together so fast – it was beautiful to see, it was beautiful to be a part of."

There was widespread acclaim for Durant's on-court leadership.

Draymond Green earned a second Olympic gold and said Durant had "carried" the USA to gold, rating the 32-year-old as the greatest player in the history of the team.

"He's been special," Green said. "He is one of the best players to ever play this game, one of the most special guys you have ever seen lace their shoes and take the basketball court.

"He carried this team like we needed him to, like he was supposed to. Coming back for his third Olympics, all-time USA scorer, there's been a lot of great players to don this jersey – he is number one. That’s a special thing."

Jrue Holiday, who added the gold medal to his NBA championship with the Milwaukee Bucks, also raved about Durant.

Holiday said: "Doing it on the world stage and doing it against different countries and actually being on his team now has been pretty cool to see – how he carries the game, carries his teammates and takes over a game.”

Bam Adebayo said Durant had been "phenomenal", adding: "The thing I like about Kevin the most, he's one of the greatest scorers in our league but also he's a genuine person. People try to bash him in the media but he's one of those guys that got your back 24/7. Being around him, being around this group of guys, we created a brotherhood."

Kevin Durant dazzled as Team USA won a fourth successive Olympic men's basketball gold medal, edging out France 87-82 in Saturday's final.

A game-high haul of 29 points from Brooklyn Nets superstar Durant saw the United States to a victory that avenged their opening group-stage loss to France.

It meant the USA kept up their strong recent record on the Olympic stage, with Durant securing a third gold medal of his career.

Jayson Tatum weighed in with 19 points, while France had five players in double figures but nobody in their ranks scored more than the 16 points managed by both Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The USA led by 11 points at 71-57 in the third quarter, but an impressive France cut that advantage to three points at 73-70 with 5:42 remaining of the fourth after Frank Ntilikina drained a three-pointer

France again reined in a double-digit lead to get back to 85-82 in arrears with 10 seconds remaining, but a foul by Gobert on Durant gave the USA's star man the chance to put the game away, which he seized by making both his free throws.

The Brooklyn Nets and superstar Kevin Durant have reached an agreement on a four-year, $198 million contract extension, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Friday.

Like all deals agreed since Monday, Durant's extension will become official on Saturday after the end of the NBA's free agency moratorium.

The contract was reported hours before Durant and the rest of Team USA play France for the Olympic gold medal in Japan.

Durant, 32, averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 2020-21 in his first season back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

A former league MVP and two-time Finals MVP, Durant played just 35 games last season as the Nets cautiously handled a series of minor injuries.

In the postseason, however, he played in all 12 of Brooklyn's games, including all 53 minutes in the Nets' second-round, Game 7 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Durant scored 34.3 points per game in the playoffs while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three-point range.

The extension is the first for the Nets' trio of superstars, with new contracts expected to come for James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn are the bookmakers' favourites to win the 2022 NBA title, which would be the first in franchise history for the Nets.

Kevin Durant admitted Team USA were caught with "a nice haymaker" from Australia before clambering to their feet and reaching another Olympic final.

The Americans scored a 97-78 victory at the Saitama Super Arena, putting a fourth successive gold medal at the Games within reach.

But at one stage in the second quarter Durant and co trailed 41-26, with the Australian Boomers making a fast and purposeful start to the semi-final that they could not maintain.

It was at the point the USA side fell 15 points behind that they took a timeout, and from that stage onwards they dominated, Durant leading the team with 23 points and nine rebounds.

Australia shot just 25 of 61 – 41 per cent – from the field, whereas USA managed 38 of 74 and dominated the boards 44-29 in what became a convincing victory.

"We've been down 15 in games before and came back," Durant said. "It doesn't matter what level it was at, or where it's at. A lot of guys have been in that position before. We know how to handle ourselves.

"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 we've got to give credit to Australia because they came out and hit us with a nice haymaker, but we were able to get back up and get that lead back."

 

It came as no surprise to Durant that Australia began as they did.

"We knew Australia would come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early, see how we respond," said the Brooklyn Nets star.

"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.

"We stuck with it, stuck with our principles, made a couple of switches on defence, and we were able to get some momentum going into the half. Guys came out with that intensity, making shots as well."

The 32-year-old Durant is chasing a third gold medal of his Olympic career, having played on the London 2012 and Rio 2016 teams.

For Jrue Holiday, who is coming off an NBA championship-winning season with the Milwaukee Bucks, this is a first Olympic experience.

Like Durant, he saw no need for panic after Australia began Thursday's semi-final so strongly.

By half-time, Australia's lead had been cut to just 45-42, and a 32-10 third quarter for the USA showed their firepower.

"I think we played the game long enough to know that there's always a chance," Holiday said. "So we took that six minutes in the second quarter and kind of ramped it up, and went into half-time in the position that we liked."

Australia have finished fourth in Olympic men's basketball four times, never going further and claiming a medal.

They will have a bronze-medal game to come in Tokyo and must pick themselves up to go again.

Jock Landale scored 11 points against the USA, and the Melbourne United star accepted it was tough for Australia to keep up their early high level.

"It's hard. It's really hard. They're great basketball players, they're smart basketball players," Landale said.

"They figure out what you're doing and they just find ways to exploit it. I think we started turning the ball over in that third quarter and they were just living in transition, and that's tough to beat. They're the most athletic guys in the world, so I think that's probably where we lost them."

Favourite Grant Holloway said nerves got the better of him after finishing second to Jamaica's Hansle Parchment in the men's 110 metres hurdles Olympic final.

The American led at the halfway mark but faded over the final 20 metres as he was beaten by his 31-year-old rival.

Parchment triumphed with a season-best time of 13.04 seconds, ahead of Holloway in 13.09, lucky to scrape ahead of Jamaican Ronald Levy who took bronze with 13.10.

Holloway and Parchment had run in the same heat and semi-final prior to the final, with the American winning both, before falling short in the all-important race.

"I think the anxiousness and the nerves got the better of me towards the end and I got sloppy with my form," Holloway said. "He got me this time but I'll make sure I get him in the next."

He added: "Hats off to Hansle for an amazing race. I was watching him when I was in high school. He's a hell of a competitor. He has an amazing race plan, he executed to the best of his ability."

Parchment admitted he learned from losing to Holloway in the previous two runs.

"I made some changes to my start, because I knew if I was going to catch up, I had to be closer in the first half," Parchment said. "I think I ran through pretty well. I maintained composure. It was a great race."

Portugal's Pedro Pichardo earned gold medal glory with a national record 17.98m in the men's triple jump.

Pichardo's triumphant effort came with his third attempt, while China's Zhu Yaming claimed silver with a personal best of 17.57m. Burkina Faso's Hugues Fabrice Zango took the bronze with 17.47m.

USA's defending champion Ryan Crouser threw an Olympic record 23.30m to win the men's shot put gold.

Crouser bettered the Olympic mark he set five years ago in Rio de Janeiro to win from countryman Joe Kovacs (22.65m), while New Zealand's Tomas Walsh (22.47m) claimed bronze.

EARLY SCARE AS USA REACH FINAL

The United States trailed by 15 points in the second quarter against Australia but rallied to qualify for the men's basketball gold medal match.

USA won 97-78 over Australia, who have never won an Olympic medal in men's basketball having finished fourth four times.

The Boomers had raced to a commanding position early on as Team USA struggled from beyond the arc.

Yet the reigning Olympic champions reduced the margin to three points by half-time and went up several gears with a 32-10 third quarter.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant top-scored again with 23 points and nine rebounds, while Devin Booker had 20 points.

USA will face either France or Slovenia in the final as they chase a fourth straight gold medal.

CARRINGTON MAKES NEW ZEALAND HISTORY

New Zealand's Lisa Carrington added a third Tokyo 2020 gold medal to her haul, landing the title in the women's kayak single 500m final.

Carrington claimed her fifth-ever Olympic gold with a strong victory in 1:51.216, from Hungary's Tamara Csipes and Denmark's Emma Jorgensen.

She becomes the first athlete from New Zealand to win five Olympic gold medals, surpassing the four of Ian Ferguson, also in canoe sprint between 1984 and 1988.

Carrington is the fourth woman at Tokyo 2020 to win three gold medals, after Australian swimmers Emma McKeon (four) and Kaylee McKeown (three) and South Korean archer An San (three).

GERMAN ADDS GOLD IN OPEN WATER

After winning bronze in the 1,500m in the pool, Germany's Florian Wellbrock won the men's marathon swimming in open water.

Wellbrock won in one hour, 48 minutes and 33.7 seconds across 10 kilometres, finishing 25.3 seconds ahead of Hungary's Kristof Rasovszky for silver, with Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri earning bronze.

The size of the German's victory was the biggest margin in Olympic marathon swimming history.

“It’s a little bit unreal," Wellbrock said. "The first seven (kilometres) of this race felt really easy."

AUSSIE SKATEBOARDING WINNER

Keegan Palmer won Australia's first-ever skateboarding gold medal with two amazing runs in the men's park final.

The 18-year-old's first run scored 94.04 before a throwaway second round. Palmer backed it up on his final run with a staggering top score of 95.83.

Brazilian Pedro Barros was next best with 86.14 for silver, while Cory Juneau claimed bronze with 84.13.

The event was the final skateboarding medal opportunity from the sport in its debut Olympics.

Simone Biles provided further inspiration when she returned to action on Tuesday and secured a bronze medal on the balance beam.

China enjoyed success with a Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing one-two, but the American gymnast stole the headlines on her first appearance back after withdrawing from the team final last week.

Mental health concerns were cited as the reason for Biles stepping away from the team events and other individual disciplines, though the 24-year-old excelled in her sole event on the beam.

The four-time Rio Olympics gold medallist reminded the world of her quality with a 14.000 score, and, despite Chenchen's last-ditch 14.633, she produced an emphatic return for the United States.

"I was just happy to be able to perform, regardless of the outcome," Biles explained after Tuesday's event. "I did it for me, and I was just proud of myself for being able to compete one more time.

"Just to have the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games meant the world, because training for five years and then coming here, then kind of being triggered and not being able to do anything, it wasn't fun.

"To go out there and compete one more time and have everyone's support meant the world."

To add to Biles' memorable comeback, the USA's basketball stars nudged past Spain 95-81 to reach the Olympic semi-finals, with Kevin Durrant netting a team-high 29 points to drive his side towards victory.

It was a far from convincing performance from the USA, however, as they trailed 39-25 at one point in the second quarter before rallying impressively to level at 43-43 at the halfway stage.

THOMPSON-HERAH COMPLETES DOUBLE-DOUBLE

Elaine Thompson-Herah motored to sprinting history as she won the 200 metres women's final to complete the sprint double-double.

The Jamaican set a new national record with 21.53 seconds, the second-fastest time in the history of the event, making herself just the second athlete ever, after Usain Bolt, to win both titles at consecutive Games.

Thompson-Herah, who claimed 100-metre gold on Saturday after doubling up for the first time at Rio 2016, just missed out on Florence Griffith-Joyner's 1988 world record by 0.19s.

"Oh my god, it's amazing that I have ever seen this day. That I could complete another double. I can't believe it," the 29-year-old said after the 200 metres final.

"I really had to pull it out to win the 200m. It's a new PB [personal best] and a national record. I am so, so happy.

"Honestly I am so tired, my legs just need some rest. I've done so many races in the last few days, but I am very grateful."

WARHOLM'S WORLD

Karsten Warholm demolished the world record with a remarkable 400 metres hurdles triumph, smashing the previous record run for a second time in five weeks.

At the start of July in Oslo, Warholm cut 0.08 seconds off Kevin Young's longstanding record that was set at the Barcelona Games in 1992, though the 25-year-old slashed even more off in Tuesday's final.

The Norwegian star powered through in 45.94s, hacking an astounding 0.76s off the global mark to secure a memorable victory.

"It's just so big. It's almost like history here. It was the only thing missing from my collection," the 25-year-old said after his win. "I had a World Championships [gold medal]. I had European Championships, I had the world record, the European record.

"The Olympic gold medal is what everybody talks about. I knew this race was going to be the toughest of my life, but I was ready."

The top three finishers all beat the previous Olympic record, with American silver medallist Rai Benjamin running 46.17, yet the performance of Benjamin's life was simply no match for Warholm.

 

BRAZIL PREPARE TO DEFEND TITLE

Brazil inflicted shoot-out heartbreak on Mexico after a 0-0 stalemate in 120 minutes to set up a final showpiece with Spain.

Reinier converted the crucial spot-kick and, with Eduardo Aguirre and Johan Vasquez missing, the defending Olympic champions ran out 4-1 victors.

"Playing the final match in the Olympics is a dream," said Brazil's head coach Andre Jardine. "The film I saw was the film of life. Everything we’ve gone through. Although we didn’t win in the 90 minutes, we took more risks."

Japan suffered extra-time agony in their semi-final against Spain as Marco Asensio's late winner sunk the host nation to tee up a mouth-watering prospect for Saturday's final.

Despite footballing disappointment, women's boxer Sena Irie provided the host nation reason to celebrate as she edged past the Philippines' 2019 world champion Nesthy Petecio to achieve gold.

Irie's win in the women’s featherweight class final means she is Japan’s first female boxing champion at the Olympics.

CYCLING CHAOS

Germany twice recorded world record rides to earn their first gold – and, in fact, their first ever medal – in the women's team pursuit cycling track event.

A strong Great Britain side, including Laura Kenny, awaited Germany in the final but the team of Mieke Kroeger, Franziska Brausse, Lisa Brennauer and Lisa Klein produced the ride of their lives to finish in 4:06.159, almost two seconds quicker than the previous record.

In a dramatic day of cycling, the reigning world champions Netherlands won their first gold since 1936 in the men's team sprint as Team GB again had to settle for silver inside the velodrome.

That silver for Jason Kenny meant he became the first athlete to win eight Olympic medals in cycling track events and also equalled the total medal haul of Britain's most successful Olympian Sir Bradley Wiggins.

More controversy filled Tuesday's track events, with Denmark's Frederik Madsen crashing into the back of Team GB's Charlie Tanfield inside the closing kilometre of the men's team pursuit heats.

The UCI later deemed the Danes, who were near two seconds ahead of their opponents, to have completed a successful catch to make it through to Thursday's final against Italy, despite the incident.

Kevin Durant said Team USA have "got to finish it" after battling past Spain to reach the Olympic semi-finals.

The Brooklyn Nets star poured in a team-high 29 points as the United States won 95-81 at the Saitama Super Arena, bolstering their gold medal hopes.

It was far from an easy assignment, and nor was it always entirely convincing from the US team, who trailed 39-29 with 3:25 of the second quarter remaining.

They rallied impressively, however, to draw level at 43-43 at the halfway point, and Spain never led again.

"We started making shots there in the second quarter. Once we see that ball going into the rim, that put all of us at ease," Durant said.

"Our defence was a little better, a little tighter, we rebounded better after that. And guys just got more comfortable shooting the basketball.

"We drove it to the rim at the end of that second and were able to get our rhythm back a little bit. I like how we played in that second quarter, from the end of the second quarter all the way to finish the game, and that's how we're gonna need to play going forward.

"It was a huge boost. We didn't want to go into the half down double digits. We knew we didn't want to get down big against this team."

Ricky Rubio plundered 38 points for Spain, with the Minnesota Timberwolves man shooting 13-of-20 from the field. That gave him the highest score by a Spain men's player in an Olympic game, beating the 37 points that Pau Gasol scored against China in 2004.

Rubio also drained four of his seven shots from three-point range, the same as Durant, but USA's 22-6 run at the start of the third quarter took the game away from Spain.

The Spaniards briefly got back to just four points behind, in the early moments of the fourth quarter, yet despite their overall 42-32 dominance on the boards, they were found wanting elsewhere.

USA coach Gregg Popovich said: "I feel great about the victory knowing full well there is a lot of work to be done. We played a terrific basketball team.

"To play that team and go down by nine or 10 and stay in and find a way to win is very satisfying."

Durant feels the team are ready to step up a level, now they are through to the final four.

The pre-Olympics defeats to Australia and Nigeria no longer matter, nor does the loss to France in the Tokyo 2020 group stage.

"I love how we stuck with it throughout this whole period of time and guys started figuring out what we need to do," Durant said.

"You've just got to finish it. We're supposed to be here. For us it's about getting a gold."

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