Olympic Hoops, Day 1
Team USA dominates France, plus Spain and Argentina cruise to victory.
by Ben Taylor / @benitaylor
USA 98, France 71
It was supposed to be tougher than this.
Team USA opened its 2012 Olympic campaign with a business-like win over Group A rival France Sunday afternoon, with Kevin Durant scoring 22 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, and the French doing little to convince anyone that the US won’t take home a Gold medal.
The first quarter was scrappy and tight, with Team USA struggling from outside and Tony Parker being forced to do everything for his team.
When TP took a seat on the bench, though, France looked like a different team, and the game started to turn in the defending champs’ favor, as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Russell Westbrook piled the pressure on back-up guard Nando De Colo. French turnovers led to easy points, and as the lead increased, the US started to relax and outside shots started to drop.
A 16 point lead at the half was always going to be tough for France to recover from, and with LeBron orchestrating offense, and KD and Melo finishing his pin-point passes, it didn’t get any easier. Kevin Love put in some good work late, staking his claim for more minutes in the next game, but the contest was already over mid-way through the third.
One worry for Coach K’s team as they progress in the competition will be the volume of fouls that were, rightly or wrongly, called against Team USA under FIBA rules. Five US players finished with three or more personal fouls, with Andre Iguodala the only player on the roster not to pick up a foul. The refs were definitely looking to call any minor infringement, and the US guys need to get used to it quickly.
Still, a 27-point win against one of the best teams in the group is exactly the start Team USA would have hoped for, and the perfect warning shot to the rest of the competition.
A quick side note before we run through the other games. TV cameras showed empty seats in the Olympic Basketball Arena throughout the day, even for the USA-France game. As someone who tried and failed to secure tickets, I hope the event’s organizers do something about it, and give real basketball fans a chance to see the event.
Spain 97, China 81
Team USA’s main rivals for the Gold medal, Spain, took care of Yi Jianlian’s China squad in their Group B opener. Pau Gasol scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, and Serge Ibaka pitched in with 17 points.
Nigeria 60, Tunisia 56
The first game of the men’s basketball competition saw an all-African clash between Nigeria and Tunisia, with the Nigerians taking the win in an ugly early-morning game. Alade Aminu, brother of NBAer Al-Farouq, led the way for Nigeria with 15 points.
Brazil 75, Australia 71
In one of the more entertaining games of the day, Brazil held off a stingy Australia team to get its first win of the competition. Brazil’s Marcelo Huertas led the way with 15 points and 10 assists.
Russia 95, Great Britain 75
Andrei Kirilenko put on the performance of the day to help Russia beat host Great Britain. The newly signed Minnesota Timberwolf shot the lights out on his way to 35 points, making 14 of his 17 attempts (82 percent). Fellow ‘Sota new-boy Alexey Shved also impressed, finishing with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 13 assists.
Argentina 102, Lithuania 79
The game ended just after midnight local time, but the late finish didn’t seem to affect Argentina, as they kicked off their Olympic campaign with an impressive win over Lithuania. A great team performance included Manu Ginobili finishing with a seemingly effortless 21 points, 6 assists and 10 rebounds, and teammate Luis Scola scoring a game-high 32 points.