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LONDON – After the United States was done delivering the most devastating defeat in the history of Olympic basketball, a 156-73 obliteration of Nigeria, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski sniffed over the suggestion that the Americans had gone too far in an 83-point humiliation of a fledgling African program.
Records tumbled in stunning and spectacular fashion, a surreal 29 Team USA three-pointers dropping into the basket in Thursday's Pool A Olympic tournament game. Carmelo Anthony had 37 points, and did so playing in a mere 14 minutes. No one had ever scored so many points in an Olympic game – 138 by Brazil in 1988 was the record – and the record for three-pointers had been broken before halftime.
Nevertheless, a question in the postgame news conference about the U.S. running up the score stiffened Krzyzewski, inspiring him to respond with marked defiance.
"We didn't play LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] in the second half, and with Carmelo shooting like that, we benched him," Krzyzewski said. "We didn't take any fast breaks in the fourth quarter, and we played all zone. You have to take a shot every 24 seconds, and the shots we took happened to be hit.
"I take offense to this question because there's no way in the world that our program in the United States sets out to humiliate anyone."
Krzyzewski nodded toward Nigeria coach Ayodele Bakare and decided to speak for him too. "Coach would think it humiliating if we didn't play hard."
Nigeria does have a marginal NBA player, Al-Farouq Aminu of the New Orleans Hornets, and an ex-NBA player Ike Diogu, but they were completely unable to protect the ball, nor showed an inclination to rotate and contest the NBA stars' three-pointers. Whatever happened, the Nigerians had run into a perfect storm. Resistance was futile.
"It was like open gym out there for them," Nigeria's Tony Skinn said with a sigh to Yahoo! Sports.
It was uneven, unpleasant and a reminder of the gap between the United States and most of the world when the Americans are resolved and relentless. The superstars kept coming in waves upon waves on Nigeria, whose players became more spectators than participants in the devastating defeat. The United States had 49 points after a quarter, 78 at halftime, and Nigeria let itself become innocent bystanders.
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"On the one side, it's terrible to get whupped like that," Nigeria's Koko Archibong said. "But on the other side, it was something impressive to be a part of – impressive to witness in person."
The United States had been a day off of practice on Wednesday and responded crisp and sharp and determined to exploit that three-point line that sits a foot-and-a-half shorter than the NBA's. Anthony's performance was spectacular, making 13 of 16 shots – including 10 of 12 on three-pointers – in 14 minutes on the floor.
"Hard to explain what it feels like to be in that zone," Anthony said.
Yes, there was a surreal sense to the game, but also an inevitability for the rest of the world that it will take something of a perfect performance to beat the Americans in this tournament. The USA's biggest threat – Spain – has lost starting guard Juan Carlos Navarro to an ankle injury and played disturbingly unimpressed basketball in a 79-78 victory over winless Great Britain.
Eight years ago, the United States was getting blown out by Puerto Rico in the Olympics, stumbling to a bronze medal, and the questions were different then. Now, everything has changed. They're the big, bad bully again, and with back-to-back victories by more than 45 points, Krzyzewski had to come to the defense of his program's sportsmanship on Thursday night. Nigeria had no issues with the Americans, but the performance and the scoreboard, left everyone a little dizzy. Yes, resistance was futile against Team USA, which inched its way ever closer to another gold medal.
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