It's a style we've grown accustomed to, in the years since the Team USA Men's Basketball team fell short in the 2002 and 2006 World Championships, and its relatively poor showing in the 2004 Olympics. A sloppy, All-Star game-type start, much hand-wringing as the opponents stay close, followed by a quick and decisive turn that leads to an eventual blowout. Team USA destroyed France in the opening game of its Olympic turn, dominating the Tony Parker-led squad with its superior athleticism and depth, allowing most of us to forget what was an unremarkable first-quarter turn with a 56-30 run over the second and third quarters of play.
[ Photos: Team USA's first game of Olympics ]
Kevin Durant led Team USA with 22 points, but it was LeBron James' startlingly effective work that had the London crowd buzzing. "Just" nine points and eight assists for the 2012 NBA Finals and regular-season MVP, but it was his creative touch and vision that helped push Team USA over the top after it slogged to merely a one-point lead after the first 10 minutes of play. Something about a beast without a name, we suppose, that France just didn't know how to handle.
There was nothing revelatory about the win, as Team USA pulled out the victory with a lot of NBA ball — 3-pointers off of drive and kick plays, lay-ins around the rim, and killer defense. The squad managed, even with a foul-plagued Tyson Chandler working as the lone orthodox defensive big during its pull-away run, to both pack the paint and get out on France's 3-point shooters. It's a shorter 3-point line in Olympic play, we're to be reminded, but that potential offensive advantage swings back to the other end side of the ball — it also allows a brilliant defensive squad like Team USA to quickly collapse as the outside shooters square up.
The result was a 2-22 mark from France from long range, and after a single viewing we don't recall many wide-open bombs sailing astray. That edge was compounded, during Team USA's second and third-quarter run, by an 8-14 mark from behind the arc for coach Mike Krzyzewski's crew after it started ohfer six to start the game (and, in the interest of accuracy, finished missing its last five attempts from long range).
France, on paper, appeared to be no slouch. The squad features seven current or former NBA players, and one future San Antonio Spur in the form of guard Nando de Colo. Eight NBA-types, to be sure, but only one real All-Star level player in Spurs guard Tony Parker, all while working without injured Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah. It was a spirited effort, but Team USA's length and strength just couldn't be countered by a French squad that actually featured quite a bit of NBA-style (drive and kick, pick and roll) ball.
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Parker, sporting goggles because he has to, struggled to lead his squad. A point of emphasis, we're guessing from stateside, as the Team USA defense forced Parker to work as an afterthought of sorts while finishing with 10 points on 11 shots, with just one assist to his credit. Parker was just one of two players on the French team to eke out double-figure points, as center Ali Traore managed a team-leading 11 points mostly working within the confines of garbage play. Nicolas Batum, the subject of an odd bidding war between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers earlier in July, finished with seven points on six shots, with two turnovers.
Team USA, on the other end, had no such trouble finding open looks — finishing with a remarkable 25 assists (in a 40 minute game!) on its 31 field goal makes. Remarkable, especially when you consider that international scorekeeping doesn't always lend itself to the liberal designation of the "assist" check mark in comparison to the NBA. Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love was second on Team USA in the scoring ledger with 14 in 14 minutes of play (his second straight strong showing), Kobe Bryant was barely needed as he put up 10, and Deron Williams eked out six assists after a slow start on Sunday.
The schedule gets even easier for Team USA as it rounds itself into Olympic shape, with contests against Tunisia and Nigeria to follow on Tuesday and Thursday. It is a bit worrying that the squad seems to be relying so heavily on the 3-point shot to pull away, but you also get the feeling that even if this squad merely plays to the sum of its parts it can win the gold medal by an average win total of 20 points per game. Because, even with all the familiar faces on France's side and the first lady in attendance, this crew appeared absolutely undaunted. Even after that slow start. Even with Parker's goggles creeping everyone out.
A fine start, we reckon.
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