Defense saved the day for the U.S. men against France.
Since competition began on Saturday, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games has had its share of drama. But drama doesn't happen very often for the USA men's basketball team. That's why Sunday's uninspiring 98-71 win over France is drawing attention.
According to the Associated Press, "The U.S. was never in real trouble, and after overcoming some major foul issues and sloppy play, the superstar-laden squad finally put France away in the second half."
But why did it take so much effort? And why did the Americans need a wake-up call?
Entering the game, Team USA knew that France was no slouch. And as AP writer Tom Withers points out, they knew what they were up against.
The Americans expected a tough test from a French team featuring San Antonio guard Tony Parker and five other NBA players.
But France entered the game short-handed, with injuries to Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and Portland's Nicholas Batum. Even Parker was playing at less than 100 percent.
According to Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk, Parker had to wear goggles [against the Americans] "because of the eye surgery he needed following a bottle hitting him in the face during the Drake/Chris Brown fight in a New York club."
So, when the Americans led 22-21 after one quarter, it appeared that they were taking France lightly.
"We got off to a slow start, probably a little too anxious," U.S. point guard Chris Paul said afterwards, per the AP. "Like we've been saying all along, our defense is what makes us so good. As long as we do that, we'll have a chance."
France has a strong defense as well, but its injuries have slowed the team in the offensive end. Problems with cohesiveness were also apparent against an American squad that eventually shook off its slow start.
“They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said.
But Sunday's win took an extensive effort by Team USA.
According to the AP's Withers, the U.S. "missed its first six 3-pointers and settled too quickly for jump shots instead of driving to the basket." The Americans were also charged with 18 personal fouls in the first half.
Fortunately for the U.S., France succumbed to defensive pressure and committed 18 turnovers en route to the loss.
“We know everybody else expects us to win by 40 points,” added Carmelo Anthony (per the AP). “For us, a win’s a win.”
Miami star LeBron James also chimed in.
"It wasn’t perfect. We’ve still got room for improvement. But overall, we played a pretty good game for as close to 40 minutes as possible."
Kevin Durant led the Americans with 22 points in his Olympic debut. And once things settled down, head coach Mike Krzyzewski gave others a chance to contribute.
Anthony Davis was one of the lucky reserves to come in late in the game. Davis, who was the NBA's first overall selection in June's draft, is just 19 years old.