We’re in for a treat, people. This morning Team USA’s men’s basketball finally got to work on the games that actually count as they opened up their Olympic run with a 98-69 rout of France at London’s Basketball Centre (creative name, eh?). The game may have started slow for Coach Krzyzewski’s men, but in the end the sheer brilliance of this squad shined bright. This team went out and performed the way that everyone thought they would, and in the process made a very good French team (featuring Tony Parker and five other NBA players) look tremendously average.
It was all business on the court on Sunday morning. Even Craig Sager, a sideline reporter for TNT and TBS who regularly performs at NBA games and was invited to help broadcast the Olympics for NBC, got in on the act. Anyone who watches the NBA knows what I’m talking about, as Sager is known for his eccentric and sometimes downright ridiculous outfits and suits, but today Sager was wearing a simple blue Olympics branded Nike polo. That’s when you know it’s not just a typical day at the office.
This USA team is so good that they can play far less than their best and still beat many of the teams that they will play over the next couple weeks. That won’t always be the case, and the first quarter of today’s game is a shining example of how this team could possibly be beat. The final three quarters are an even better of example of why this team won’t be beat.
In the first quarter today, the US shot just 7 for 24 overall and 0-6 from beyond the three-point line. As France made the first three of the day as time expired in the quarter, the US held just a one-point lead at 22-21. Not to make excuses for the poor shooting in the first quarter, but in the Olympics the official ball is one that is different from the NBA ball. The Olympics use a Molten Sports official basketball which has two extra panels than the Spalding ball you see on the NBA court, and it also is a slightly different texture as well. Did that play a role, I don’t know, but it’s a thought. Some baffling foul calls also didn’t help matters in the first quarter, but the Americans took the 1 point lead after the first 10-minute quarter and never looked back.
The USA’s first three of the game happened early in the second quarter, so early in fact that NBC Sports Network had not even returned in time to see LeBron James score it. About a minute later Kobe Bryant knocked in Team USA’s second three of the game, and about another minute after that Chris Paul helped the Americans string together a quick little 3 for 3 run on deep balls to turn their fortune in that department. These huge buckets set the tone for the rest of the game, and if you had only watched the first 10 minutes you would have never expected that the trey would be a vital weapon for USA. Team USA finished the game 8-25 from beyond the arc, so while improvable it is definitely tolerable. The Americans won the second quarter 30-15 to extend their 1 point first quarter lead to a 52-36 halftime advantage, and the rout was on. The 11 French turnovers in the first half didn’t help the Europeans and USA capitalized on almost every single one. Another key reason is that in the first half the USA had 14 assists on 17 made field goals, while France only had 3 assists on 11 field goals, quite a difference there.
During the halftime show on NBC Sports Network, Celtics coach Doc Rivers made a point that needs to be mentioned here. Speaking of LeBron James, Rivers said that James is the size of Karl Malone yet he plays the guard position. Think about that for a second, LeBron playing guard at his ridiculous size is something that many casual fans of basketball take for granted, but that’s one of the reasons that LBJ will be remembered as the greatest player that anyone born after April 13, 2003 will ever see in their lifetime.
The USA continued to use the three-ball to their advantage in the second half, and started to relax just a tiny bit on their defensive intensity since the referees were calling too strict of a game. Both teams still played hard throughout the second half, but the talent level gap was just too much for the French to conquer, especially when USA’s shots started falling. The Americans opened up a 78-51 lead after three quarters and then cruised to the 98-69 final in the fourth quarter before giving congratulatory, sweaty hugs to First Lady Michelle Obama.
The key players in today’s match were LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and a wild-card Kevin Love. In just 25 minutes today, LeBron racked up 9 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, and he was in total control of the game when he was on the floor. When LBJ becomes a floor general and finds his inner competitiveness it is a very scary sight for opponents and something that is fantastic to watch as a fan, and today #6 had it. Kevin Durant also played his heart out today, scoring a game high 22 points and grabbing 9 rebounds while also leading the team by playing 28 minutes. The three time scoring champion went 3-5 from deep and 7-7 from the free-throw line today to do his scoring efficiently as well, and that’s a talent that is underrated by many these days. Kevin Love also had a fantastic game off the bench. The Minnesota Timberwolves forward was one of three players to score in double figures (Kobe Bryant had 10, plus Durant), as the tall, very white forward/center poured in 14 points in 14 minutes of action.
Today’s start to the 2012 Olympics was just what Coach K’s team wanted. They play their next match on Tuesday night (5:15 EST) against Tunisia. This is a game that won’t even be as close as today’s, so it will probably be a great opportunity to see more of the second unit and also of Anthony Davis, and it’s always great to get those players experience just in case they’ll be needed in the later stages of the tournament. If today’s match was any indication, this team is firing on all cylinders, and it’s going to be amazing to watch these guys go about proving their supremacy on the world basketball stage.