Thursday, August 2, 2012
Instant Analysis: Team USA 156, Nigeria 73
By Marc Stein
LONDON -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis of Team USA's 156-73 fireworks show Thursday night against Nigeria that smashed countless records and moved the Americans to 3-0 in Group A play.
How it happened: Let's just say that a rare day off obviously agreed with Team USA.
And that maybe, just maybe, Mike Krzyzewski got his starters a bit revved up for this one when he benched them to start Tuesday night's second half against Tunisia after announcing earlier in the day that Wednesday's practice would be scrapped.
Coach K was adamant after the Tunisia rout that there was no message-sending behind his decision, but Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant had a response anyway. A loud one. Playing near-flawless basketball offensively, with crisp ball movement and a focus/sharpness that was clearly lacking in its first two games in pool play, Team USA scored the game's first 13 points against its overmatched foes.
That set the tone for a magical 49-point first quarter that included 11 3s ... from the same group that shot 0-for-14 on 3s in the first quarters played against France and Tunisia.
And the 3-party never really stopped.
By halftime, Team USA had rung up three more triples against a squad with nine American-born players, setting a program single-game record for triples with two full quarters to go. The Americans would toss in 15 more 3s in the second half to finish with a ridiculous 29 overall.
And while the Americans couldn't quite maintain their early 196-point pace, they still had 78 points by halftime, led by Carmelo Anthony (19 of his 37 points overall), Bryant (16 before putting his left knee on ice for the second half) and Durant (14 all in the first half).
With 4:37 to play, Team USA had eclipsed the single-game Olympic scoring record of 138 points, set by Brazil in 1988. The eye-popping final margin of 83 points not only eclipsed the Dream Team's record win (68 points over Angola in 1992) but also trumped the 72-point win posted by the Bill Russell-led United States over Thailand in the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia.
The only malfunction, on this night, would be wardrobe-related; Anthony Davis forgot to wear his jersey under his sweats and had to watch the whole first-half shooting gallery from the bench as a result.
At least the 19-year-old saw an amazing show for the ages.
What it means: It means that Team USA, after plenty of nitpicking in its opening two victories, suddenly sports the most momentum of any team in the 12-team field. By far.
Pool play closes with two games that will be worlds tougher than this one -- Lithuania on Saturday afternoon and Argentina on Monday night -- but the top seed in the group is realistically already clinched.
And with top medal contenders such as Spain, Argentina and Brazil all off to so-so starts, Krzyzewski's biggest worry in the short term figures to be keeping his team grounded.
Player of the game: Do you have to ask?
Anthony scored 37 points in 14 minutes. He drained 10 3s in 12 attempts. He made five of those 3s in a two-minute span of the third quarter. A few days after asking Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt to take a picture with him before practice ... Melo became Oscar Schmidt.
Play of the game: Kevin Durant had a nice left-handed shovel lob to James Harden for an earlier alley-oop. But Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love trumped them at the third-quarter buzzer.
Westbrook caught a long outlet pass just beyond halfcourt and sent a lob toward Love. Yet with the ball in the air, it became clear that Love wouldn’t quite have the bounce to finish the play. So Love decided to lob the ball back over the rim to Westbrook, who couldn’t hammer home the cleanest finish but still rammed it through comfortably to beat the quarter buzzer by catching and flushing with one hand with his head at rim height.
By the numbers: Ten triples for Melo.
We repeat: 10.
The previous single-game best in the Olympics for an American was Stephon Marbury's six 3s against Spain in Team USA's infamous stumble to the bronze in Athens in 2004. Marbury’s 31 points in the game also accounted for a U.S. record that Anthony shattered with his 37 points in just 14:29 of action.
For good measure during his third-quarter 3 spree, Anthony clenched his teeth to make a “Kobe Face,” as it’s known, and also threw in one of those palms-up shrugs that Michael Jordan made famous during the 1992 NBA Finals against Portland. It was that kind of night.