LONDON — Carmelo Anthony couldn’t explain it. Few who witnessed it could, and even they would just be guessing about how records that have stood for years could all come crashing down in a matter of minutes at the Olympic Basketball Arena late Thursday night.
Maybe Anthony is right, perhaps it was “just one of those nights.”
Maybe it was just being in the zone and the perfect opponent at the perfect time for a team still hunting perfection in a game that has been known to humble those chasing foolish things.
And maybe, just maybe, it was Anthony, one of the greatest scorers on the planet right now, catching fire in a glorious 14 minute and 29-second stretch the likes of we might not see again on the Olympic stage.
By the time the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team had finished toying with Nigeria, they set Olympic records for most points in a half and most points in a game in their 156-73 win, the only thing anyone knew for sure was that history had been made and that they’d probably never see anything like it again.
Anthony set U.S. Olympic records for points (37), breaking Stephon Marbury‘s record of 31 (against Spain in 2004), 3-pointers made and attempted (10-for-12) and the U.S. team set Olympic records for points scored, points in a first half (78), field goals made (59), 3-pointers made and attempted (29-for-46), field goal percentage (71.1), victory margin (83) and their 41 assists tied a record.
They shot a staggering 81 percent (30-for-37) inside the 3-point line a wicked 63 percent from distance.
“It couldn’t have been anybody out there that we were playing against,” Anthony said. “When we’re shooting like that, shooting that well, the percentage that we shot … it’s just incredible. One through 12, everybody contributing. Tonight was just one of those nights where we had it going as a unit. It was incredible.”
The record for shock value in a win … well, you might as well throw that one in there, too.
“I’ve never had a team I’ve coached at any level shoot the ball the way they did tonight,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said to Nigeria coach Ayo Barake as the two men walked off the stage in the press center after the game. “Our guys couldn’t miss tonight. They shared the ball. When you hit 29 threes, it’s very difficult to lose in a game like that. Just an incredible shooting performance. That’s not going to happen very often.”
Afterwards, the Nigerian contingent was still struggling with their role in this historic game. They’ve given up 100 points midway through the third quarter and were taking punches from every direction.
“Am I surprised?” a clearly agitated Koko Archibong said of the records that were set against he and his teammates. “I don’t even know how to answer that. Should I be surprised? Okay, sure, I’m surprised.”
Barake cracked jokes and tried his best to find a silver lining for his team. But he couldn’t deny that it’ll be a tough 48 hours for his team and their collective psyche.
“Wounded egos,” he said of what had changed about his team from before the game.
“When they shoot like this, I don’t know if there is any team that can beat them,” said Ike Diogu, who promised not to be intimidated by the U.S. and played like it, finishing with 27 points to lead Nigeria.
But this game was over shortly after it started.
Kobe Bryant (16 points) and Kevin Durant (14) kicked off the festivities, each of them connecting from distance in the opening stages of the game as the U.S. lead grew to double digits in mere minutes.
By the time Anthony hit the floor late in the first quarter the tone had already been set. He just fed off of what was already done. He connected on three straight 3-pointers to finish the quarter and went right back at it in the second. He had 19 points at halftime and had drained five of his seven shots from long-range.
In the third quarter, though, he ventured into that netherworld known as the zone, where only the special few have gone. He went to the bench with 4:58 to play in the third quarter, his record-setting night sewn up and the U.S. leading by a comfy 47 points and his teammates going crazy.
The U.S. was 20-for-30 from deep when he departed and made nine more for good measure. But the mercurial stretch Anthony had, the jaw-dropping display he delivered on a stage where records are set all the time (U.S. swimmer and gold medal king Michael Phelps was doing his work at the aquatic center just a few miles away), will go down as one of the greatest displays anyone has ever seen.
So what if it was a preliminary round game against a clearly overmatched Nigeria team catching a rejuvenated U.S. Team after a much-needed day off.
“The support system, first of all, that we have and I have from my teammates, you can’t explain it,” Anthony said. “The way that they are telling me to shoot the ball, encouraging me to make and take shots … and then just the feeling, that touch, it’s kind of hard to explain. If you’ve never done it, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.”
On a team full of NBA All-Stars and guys who rank among the greatest players in the game today, and in some cases all time, that’s a mouthful.
“It was unbelievable and you could see it from the get-go,” said Kevin Love, the NBA’s reigning 3-point contest king. “I mean, 78 points at halftime and seeing Carmelo go off, really in the first half and second half, 10-for-12 from  was unbelievable to watch. But we hit 29 3-pointers tonight, so we had a good rhythm going tonight. I hope it’s a good omen for us the rest of Olympics.”
You know this was a wake-up call performance for the rest of the field, all of whom already have the U.S. circled at the top of their hit list. Upsetting the world’s No. 1 ranked team is going to be difficult enough. But doing it when they are shooting the cover off of the ball and coming together the way this team has is going to make it extremely difficult to do.
“It feel great to be a part of history,” Bryant said. “There have been a lot of great teams to come through the Olympics and posted some big scores. And tonight, everything was clicking on all cylinders for us. We just wanted to come out and play hard and stay focused. It just turned out that everybody was hot and that’s a big problem. Everybody started making shots and it kind of snowballed.”
But this was not some deliberate statement game for the U.S. This was just, as Anthony said, one of those nights … a ridiculously good shooting night.
“This is good, this is a good feeling,” Chris Paul said. “We’re always trying to make our mark somehow, someway. This is all good and well, but the mark we want to leave here with is another gold medal.”
That would explain all of the push back on the notion that a performance like this stirring the debate about who would win between the original Dream Team and this current, record-setting crew.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with that,” Bryant said. “This is just about being a part of history. But that’s where this ends.”
A few minutes later, Anthony squashed it again — a practice visit the other day from Brazilian great Oscar Schmidt, who owns the Olympic scoring record of 55 points against Spain in 1988, no doubt swirling in his mind as he refused to play the comparison game with past greats.
“We don’t play for them,” Anthony said. “We play for ourselves. While we’re playing in a game we’re not thinking about what the 1992 Dream Team did or anything like that. We respect those guys, we understand what they did. We understand the standard that them guys set. But we’re playing for ourselves right now, we’re playing our country, we’re playing for this moment. We’re not out there on the basketball court making plays and making shots and playing defense, and saying ‘this is what the ’92 Dream Team was doing.’ They already did what they did in ’92 and now we have a chance to do some special.”
Special, now that’s seem like an appropriate word to describe what went on here Thursday night.