The United States/China basketball match-up in the Group B prelims was one of the most anticipated events of the Beijing Olympics.
With basketball's extreme popularity in China, the Chinese's love of NBA stars, and billions of Chinese swelling with national pride as Yao Ming lit the Olympic torch at the opening ceremonies, NBC commentaries suggested this matchup could be the most-watched basketball game of all time.
While the Chinese were seeking to gain national pride by establishing themselves in the basketball arena, Team USA—dubbed the "Redeem Team"—were seeking to regain national pride after their lackluster performance in the 2004 Olympics.
Yao Ming opened the scoring in the first quarter with a three-pointer. The first few minutes were an even matchup of scoring. Team USA did not gain momentum but for a moment in the later part of the first quarter. China's four out of six three pointers kept them in the game, despite their five turnovers. The quarter ended with the U.S. up 20 to 16.
China continued to rely on the three-pointer in the second quarter, netting four out of ten from behind the arc. But the U.S. grabbed the momentum in the second quarter.
Kobe Bryant delivered a finger roll alley-oop to LeBron James that resulted in a James dunk. James was fouled, but missed the free throw. On the ensuing inbound pass, China turned the ball over to Bryant and attempted another alley-oop to James. LeBron missed the dunk, but Team USA continued to widen the gap in the score despite sloppy play.
Bryant traveled with two seconds left in the second quarter, but the U.S. ended the half with a 49 to 37 lead over China. The U.S.' man of the first half was LeBron James, who tallied 11 points, three assists, four rebounds, and two blocks.
Despite Yao Ming's stunning opening three-pointer, he only scored twice more, but did grab six rebounds. Yao's greatest contribution was the attention he got from the U.S. defense, which opened up the perimeter for the Chinese to score 24 of their 37 points from the three-point line.
Team USA was 20 for 24 from inside the three-point line, but one for 12 from beyond the arc. The second half started off with few points due to fouls, turnovers, and blocks from both sides. There were only four points scored in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
But the U.S. picked up the pace and gained their largest lead to that point (17) after a turnover resulted in a LeBron James dunk. Soon after, James hit a three-pointer from the corner to give them an 18-point lead, then flew in to grab a missed Chinese shot.
China then suffered a scare when Yao Ming limped off the court, checking his ankle, after a Dwyane Wade lay-up.
The quarter wound down with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade dunks. The U.S. outscored China 25 to 11 in the third quarter, taking a commanding 74-48 lead. James and Wade led third-quarter scoring with seven points each.
Yao Ming came back on the court in the fourth quarter, forcing a bad shot by the U.S. in the key then dunking after he was left standing wide open in the key. Ming was substituted out with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and left the court to the cheers of Chinese fans.
China gained some momentum halfway through the fourth, scoring 10 unanswered points to shave the U.S. lead to 25. Ming stood and cheered from the bench, his clenched fist raised in the air.
Michael Redd hit his third three-pointer of the fourth quarter in the last minute to put the US up by 33. China scored once more, and the final was Team USA 101, China 70.
Dwayne Wade lead the U.S. with 19 points. Lebron James ended the game with 18 points and six rebounds. Yao Ming scored 13 points, but was four from 13 from the field.
Team USA's next game is Tuesday against Angola.