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Mikal Bridges ‘play for the ages’ is for naught as Canada beats Team USA for bronze

Team USA will be returning home without medals following a loss to Canada in the bronze medal game at the FIBA World Cup. Still, Mikal Bridges Manila Miracle, won’t be easily forgotten.

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It was, as the FIBA announcer Jeff Taylor said, a “play for the ages.” With 4.2 seconds left in regulation and Team USA down three in the World Cup bronze medal game, Mikal Bridges stood at the foul line, having made his first shot. But he knew that even if he made his second free throw, his team would still be down by two with virtually no chance of tying the game.

So, Bridges deliberately missed and in a flurry of pure basketball, secured the offensive rebound, raced into the corner just beyond the 3-point line and fired over Dillon Brooks, the crowd insane and the bright lights of the basketball world focused solely on him.

Swish. Game tied at 111. 0.6 seconds left. Overtime

No matter how many times it’s viewed, no matter how many angles, it remains stunning...

Tell a friend indeed!

Post-game, Bridges said the sequence was not random. He knew what he was doing...

“Coach told me to miss the second one. I tried to miss it to the right, that’s where you want the ball in situations like that and I just read and reacted. I knew it was low time so I just went and shot it,” Bridges said after the game.

It wasn’t the only big shot by Bridges late in the game. With 2:16 left, he put the U.S. in the lead, part of the Americans’ final run...

In the end, though, there was too much Dillon Brooks (39 points) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31 points) and Canada prevailed in overtime, 127-118, winning its first medal international play since the Berlin Olympics of 1936. For the U.S., there was no medal for the second straight World Cup, something that hadn’t happened since 1970. The last U.S. gold came in 2014 when Kyrie Irving, then with the Cavs, was MVP.

In the end, Bridges focused not so much on his shot, but why he, Cam Johnson and ten other players won’t be coming home with a medal hanging around their necks.

“We didn’t get enough stops,” Bridges said post-game. “They had a rhythm, but we just fought to the end. I could take that with me after this, but yeah, it hurts.”

Still, he said, no regrets about his round-the-world journey that established him, if anyone needed confirmation, as one of the game’s biggest stars.

“Even though the outcome is not what we wanted, I wouldn’t trade these six weeks, seven weeks away for nothing,” he said of the grueling stretch that saw him play 13 games in a month, exhibitions in Las Vegas, Malaga, Spain and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. That’s an NBA-level grind, playing on four countries on three continents, after a season where he led the NBA in games played, minutes on the court and mileage covered.

Bridges added that if he’s invited to play for the U.S. Olympic team next summer in Paris, he would accept instantly.

“I think I will never say no, it’s an honor every time,” said Bridges.

Steve Kerr echoed Bridges analysis of why the U.S. lost not just to Canada but to Lithuania and Germany as well.

“We just didn’t defend well enough against Germany [in the semifinals] or against Canada, and that’s the bottom line,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said. “Every year when you try to build a team, you try to build the best two-way team you can and be able to get stops and score, and everybody’s trying to do that.”

Indeed, after coming into Cup play with a 97-0 record when scoring 100 or more points, the Americans were 1-3 in Manila and in three of their last four games, vs. Lithuania, Germany and Canada, their defense got progressively worst, permitting 110, 113 and 127 points, each one a new record for the U.S.

The Nets wing, who celebrated his 27th birthday in Manila, finished with 19 points, shooting 6-of-11 overall, including 3-of-6 from deep. He added seven boards, four assists and two steals. In Cup play, he wound up averaging 13.6 points a game, but 20.0 in the final three games. His final shooting splits were an otherworldly 63/56/82. He also led the USA roster in efficiency, beating out Anthony Edwards. His steady play on both sides of the court had many suggesting it was he, not Edwards, who was the best all-around player on the roster.

Moreover, at the end of the tournament, he had to be included in a small group of NBA players who took a leap while playing in the tournament, joining Gilgeous-Alexander, Brooks and Edwards. For Cam Johnson. Bridges best friend and so-called “twin,” the experience couldn’t have been as rewarding. Johnson started out as a starter then was relegated to the bench before ending up as a non-factor. He averaged 3.0 points.

They will now return home, along with other Nets staff who made the trip. As we’ve noted, most of the team is already at HSS Training Center, getting ready for the start of training camp in three weeks, then the start of the regular season in six weeks. No doubt they’ll be welcomed home, medals or no medals...

Paolo Banchero, Brandon Ingram and Jaren Jackson Jr. were all out Sunday with respiratory issues.

In the finals, Germany won its first FIBA World Cup, defeating Serbia 83-77, ending up the only undefeated team in the tournament. Nikola Milutinov, a Nets stash finished with only two points and four rebounds as the Germans’ NBA bigs effectively controlled the paint. The Raptors’ Dennis Schroeder was named MVP of the tournament. Milutinov, despite his struggles in the gold medal game, was named to the All-tournament team, as was Anthony Edwards, both making the second team. Oddly, the tournament’s second team only had four players. No explanation was provided for the missing fifth man.