LONDON — Those post-game hugs they got from First Lady Michelle Obama were well-earned.
Those post-game embraces from the First Lady brought more excitement from the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team than anything France did here Sunday at the Olympic basketball stadium.
The opener for both teams was supposed to provide a test for the gold medal favorites, and for all of about 10 minutes that theory seemed to be intact. But the U.S. Team cranked up after taking a 22-21 first quarter lead and toyed with France before finishing off their rout 98-71 in Group A preliminary round matchup.
Kevin Durant led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes of action, topping or tying for the top spot all three categories. LeBron James dictated the action without pressing to score too much, finishing with nine points and a game-high eight of the U.S. Team’s 27 assists. And Kevin Love came off the bench and bettered that efficiency with 14 points (on 5-for-8 shooting) in his 14 minutes and 18 seconds of action.
As good as they were after shaking off an 0-for-6 shooting start from beyond the 3-point line and their own sloppy play, France clearly wasn’t capable of pressuring the U.S. the way some believed they would with Tony Parker leading a team with eight other players with NBA experience wearing blue.
“They are going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said afterwards, stopping short of calling the U.S. unbeatable one game into the competition despite watching the U.S. lead balloon to as many as 29 points during one stretch.
Durant said the goal was simply to establish themselves and get into a flow for what they know will be a tougher grind as the days go by. The U.S. returns to action Tuesday night against Tunisia.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to discuss and dissect from this game. For one, the U.S. let their aggressive tendencies on defense get them into foul trouble. They piled up all of those assists but also cost themselves at times by trying a little too hard to make the extra pass, if there is such a thing.
“Yes it is,” Durant said. “And sometimes we do that. But that’s the beauty of this team. Guys don’t mind passing the ball, don’t mind sacrificing minutes and shots. That’s what makes this whole thing work.”
Durant has drawn the ire of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski as well as some of his teammates, namely Chris Paul, for not being more aggressive. As versatile as all of the NBA All-Stars and standouts on the U.S. roster are, there is only one of them that can lay claim to being the three-time, and counting, league scoring champ.
“I just told KD to be himself and on a team like this you can kind of shy away from it because there are so many great players here,” James said. “KD is on this team for a reason. He’s one of the best players this world has and a three-time scoring champ. So we don’t want to the KD that defers. We want the KD that you see playing for Oklahoma City.”
Durant obliged in spurts against France. He knocked down three of his five attempts from beyond the 3-point line but also finished strong at the rim in transition, blocked two shots and tied Tyson Chandler for the team-led in rebounds.
One of seven newcomers to the Olympics on this squad, Durant is doing his best to blend in while his teammates are demanding that he do what they know he’s capable of and dominate when he sees an opening.
They’re asking him to play the way they did, for the most part, against France.
There’s no need to put on a show, but when you’re capable of doing so …
“As long as we’re out there playing the right way, whatever comes out of that is fine with us,” James said. “We want to play the right way, we want to share the ball offensively, we want to defend at a high level and we want to rebound. And again, whatever comes out of that we’re fine with it.”