Sunday, July 29, 2012
Instant Analysis: USA 98, France 71
By Marc Stein
Some at-the-buzzer Instant Analysis of Team USA's 98-71 defeat of France in Sunday's Group A opener at the 2012 Olympics in London:
How it happened: After an underwhelming start lowlighted by wayward perimeter shooting and a curious lack of early ball movement, Team USA led by a mere point after one quarter.
But early 3-pointers in the second quarter from LeBron James and Kobe Bryant -- after an 0-for-6 start from deep for the Americans -- enabled the gold-medal favorites to start stretching the lead with France star Tony Parker on the bench.
The Yanks gradually began to warm up from the perimeter and created just enough offense in transition to pump the lead up to a healthy 52-36 by halftime. That's despite the fact that no less than seven Team USAers had more fouls at the break than starting center Tyson Chandler, whose penchant for finding foul trouble is a constant worry for coach Mike Krzyzewski and staff.
With both the goggled Parker (eye surgery) and Nicolas Batum (limited by his recent free-agent saga) still trying to play their way into elite form and Joakim Noah (ankle) unavailable for the Summer Games, France unsurprisingly couldn't make a second-half dent. Things got so lopsided late that Krzyzewski had no hesitation sending in rookie center Anthony Davis for the final eight minutes, with Davis slamming home an alley-oop feed from Russell Westbrook after missing his first oop attempt.
What it means: Team USA ultimately gets the solid start it wanted against an opponent with one of the better international pedigrees in Group A. The next two games, against Tunisia and Nigeria, will be far easier, so that first-quarter push from the French gives the Americans something resembling a warning shot to dissect -- brief as it was.
Player of the Game: LeBron James.
Kevin Durant led Team USA with 22 points and Kevin Love chipped in a solid 14 points off the bench, but James was the undeniable tone-setter even with his modest numbers, especially with his passing. In just under 25 minutes, LeBron totaled nine points, eight assists and five boards.
Play of the Game: "Play of the Game" is underselling this one. This will be a contender for Play of the Tournament: LeBron's bounce pass from well behind halfcourt to a streaking Durant for a fast-break score.
With a modest 8-5 lead, Chandler rebounded the ball, passed to LeBron on the right side of the floor and had the celebratory fist pump waiting as James -- from just beyond the free throw line Team USA was just defending -- flung an over-the-head, two-handed bounce pass through Batum and Boris Diaw to Durant, who seemed to have an inkling of what was coming judging by how soon he took off.
Like a lot of James' dishes in this one, it was pretty Magic Johnson-esque.
By the numbers: Sixty-five.
That's the number of free throws shot by both teams, combined, in what can only be described as a foul fest.
Team USA is now 16-1 in Olympic openers, losing only to Puerto Rico in 2004, and 5-0 against France in the Olympics.
When the Americans weren't hounding the French with hard closeouts to the 3-point line, contributing to France's 2-for-22 misery from deep, they eventually picked up the ball movement and wound up with an impressive 27 assists on 31 baskets.
James and Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, joined David Robinson as the only American men to play in three different Olympiads.