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Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

U.S. player Allisha Gray blocks a shot from Russia’s Yulia Kozik in a 3v3 women’s basketball game at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics on Sunday. Jeff Roberson / AP Hide caption

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Jeff Roberson / AP

U.S. player Allisha Gray blocks a shot from Russia’s Yulia Kozik in a 3v3 women’s basketball game at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics on Sunday.

Jeff Roberson / AP

TOKYO – In 3v3 basketball, the action almost never stops.

The quirky cousin of traditional basketball is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo, introducing the world to the dizzying, more compact game of driveways and public parks.

And while the competition is intense and the players are laser focused, the event is officially known as 3×3 basketball at the Olympics is set up to evoke the fun, upbeat atmosphere of a street pickup match.

The 3-on-3 basketball arena is outdoors and half the size of a traditional basketball court. The ball is a little smaller. A DJ puts on music while the players compete against each other.

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“From the viewer’s point of view, it’s fun to see it energetic, it never gets boring,” said US player Allisha Gray, who plays for the Dallas Wings in the WNBA. “Overall, it’s just fun to play.”

With U.S. women battling for a medal on Wednesday, here’s everything you need to know to enjoy the new Olympic sport.

It’s way faster than basketball and over in no time

When the players step onto the court, the clock is 10 minutes – less than a fifth of the time of an NBA game. Those 10 minutes are absolutely breakneck.

Both teams shoot in the same tire. There’s a winner when the clock runs out or a team hits 21 points, whichever comes first.

In traditional basketball, the game pauses after one team scores a goal while the other team gains possession of the ball. Then they put the ball back into play. But in 3-on-3, if there is a basket, the teams continue to play without a break.

And if a team is in possession of the ball, they must shoot within 12 seconds. NBA players have twice as much time.

It’s also a rougher game than traditional basketball. “You don’t get a lot of bad calls,” said Gray.

Fouls that would be easy to identify in the NBA or WNBA often slide by.

The sport tries to stay true to its street roots

The sport that emerged from urban parks tries to awaken this atmosphere even in top competition.

Music pulsates even when the game is played. On Tuesday, Yu Matsuzaki, known as DJ You, was shooting music in Tokyo that you might hear in clubs like Kanye West and Nelly.

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She said that up-tempo music helps keep players energized. Under normal circumstances, it would also stimulate viewers.

“I think this 3×3 is very different from the other sports because the music helps create the cool atmosphere. And the music can change the game a lot, ”she said of a translator.

It’s new to international competition, but it’s growing rapidly

The sport has only been played in international competition for about a decade – a rapid rise from the street to the biggest event in international sport.

“I think it has a great future all over the world, it’s great fun to play … I think the Olympics stage in particular will help keep it growing,” said Kara Lawson, the director Trainer of women’s basketball at Duke, who trains the 3-on-3 team.

“I have people who call and text me about how fun these games are.”

Japanese Stephanie Mawuli passes US player Kelsey Plum in a 3×3 women’s basketball game at the Summer Olympics on Tuesday. Jeff Roberson / AP Hide caption

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Jeff Roberson / AP

The US is likely to win a medal

The US women are clear favorites for medals. They’ve already secured their spot in the semi-finals – and if all goes well, they’ll play for gold on Wednesday at 8:55 a.m. ET.

The US have won six of their seven games so far but were unexpectedly beaten by the Japanese on Tuesday.

“We thought we couldn’t beat the United States,” said Japanese Risa Nishioka after her side’s victory.

Gray said her team was looking forward to the next game. “All we can do is take a break from this game and now that this game is in the past we focus on the semi-finals,” she said.

Gray competes with Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young of the Las Vegas Aces and Stefanie Dolson of Chicago Sky.

3-on-3 opens up new possibilities for basketball players

The 3-on-3 format offers basketball players opportunities outside the limelight of the traditional game.

Fewer players mean that it is easier for countries that have not yet dominated basketball to form a team. For example, Mongolia created a 3-on-3 roster for women – the first time the country has competed in a team sport at the Olympics.

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And for countries that are basketball powerhouses, 3-on-3 adds four more players heading to the Olympic Games in basketball.

Many of the athletes playing are amateurs without the relative comfort of a professional basketball player’s life.

“We all have full-time jobs,” said Belgian player Thierry Marien, who works in the human resources department of a digital design company after his team beat Poland with a buzzer. “Practice like a pro and be on the road all weekend, Friday through Sunday and then go to work on Monday.”

But being at the Olympics makes the long hours worth it, he said. “It’s so, so exciting to be here at this stage and fight for a medal.”

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