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At some point during Team USA's 156-73 win over Nigeria on Thursday, all the pretty jumpers and quick cuts to the hoop were somehow replaced by cold, hard and ridiculous numbers. A 13-0 start. A 27-point lead in the first quarter. An 11-14 start from 3-point range, and 29-46 (63 percent, 87 points on 46 possessions) mark overall. A shocking 49 points in the first quarter after just 10 minutes of international play. A Team USA record 37 points for Carmelo Anthony, topping (of course!) fellow onetime New York Knick Stephon Marbury's 31 points during the 2004 Olympics. An 83-point win, destroying the 72-point record set by Team USA over Thailand in the 1956 Olympics. And, perhaps most impressively, 156 total points, destroying the record set by Brazil in the 1988 tourney.
It was a little one-sided.
Some of Nigeria showed up. One of Nigeria showed up. Ike Diogu, who as we discussed on Wednesday is using this run of international play to prove that he is (and we agree that he most definitely "is") an NBA-caliber player, managed 27 points and seven rebounds in just 29 minutes of play. Only one other player on the squad, Ejike Ugboaja, made more than half his shots. The defense was spotty. Dunks and eventual open threes were recognized by Team USA just seconds into a possession, even in the half court. This may have been the most one-sided game of basketball that you'll ever watch, at least amongst guys that can actually play.
Team USA's offense was just too dominant to be countered. Nigeria entered the contest shooting 29 percent from the field in Olympic play, and though Team USA took in plenty of buckets by taking those missed shots (Nigeria shot 41 percent, making 28 of 68 attempts) and turnovers (25, in just 40 minutes of play) to the hole on the other end, coach Mike Krzyzewski had his team playing sprightly ball in the half court early on as it spread the floor and forced Nigeria into attempting to defend myriad options that it had no hope to stay in front of. It was as wearying as that last "sentence."
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Carmelo Anthony came off the Team USA bench, after jawing early with Diogu from the pine before Ike hit his first turnaround jumper, and immediately stepped into three after three after three. He even missed an open one, on his way toward making a remarkable 10 of 12 from behind the arc, and also missed a chippy that could have led to a traditional three-point play in transition. Those 37 points could have been 42, if given a few more inches, all in 14:29 minutes of work. Perhaps the most potent 14 1/2 minutes of offensive basketball that you've ever seen, unless you happened to be in Hershey, Pa., on March 2, 1962.
Also notable was the early play of Kobe Bryant, who watched as his minutes were limited in the first two games of the Olympics but seemed to be chomping at the bit early in this contest to actually play some Kobe Bryant-styled basketball.
He made both of his 3-pointers on his way toward 16 points, but he also thrilled Los Angeles Laker fans with a series of quick-hit post-ups and Michael Jordan-styled turnaround jumpers. It was fun to watch as a hoopshead, and exactly what Lakers fans wanted to see after a 2011-12 season full of dribbling from too far away. Team USA doesn't need Kobe to be KOBE in order to win, but you got the feeling Kobe Bryant (probably getting sick of practice, at this point) needed to pretend there was blood in the water early in this win. Wonderful to see him mixing it up again.
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Beyond that? Everyone contributed. Russell Westbrook worked literally like a small forward at times in Coach K's smallish lineups, but also ran as a Scottie Pippen-type even while playing the point guard slot on his way to 21 points on only eight shots, and three steals in 14 minutes. Kevin Durant came out hot, stayed hot, and finished with 14 points on only nine shots. Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love combined to hit 6 of 9 from long range. Everyone probably touched that rim save for Deron Williams, who was brilliant in his (initially, scoring, later with the passing) attack on his way toward 13 points and 11 assists.
It was astonishing, astonishing basketball. It may not have won a team an NBA title, or gold medal, or tipped off a fourth-quarter comeback with clutch play, but it was something those of us who were lucky to witness it will never forget.
Not exactly what we were expecting when we tuned into a Team USA versus Team Nigeria game on a random cable channel early on a Thursday evening, stateside.
That's how special, and how potent, this version of Team USA is.
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