The United States men's basketball team got off to an excellent start in preliminary-round play at the 2016 Summer Olympics, dominating China's national squad, 119-62, at Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
After beating China by 49 and 50 points in two exhibition matches in California in late July, Team USA showed the raised stakes of Olympic play and unfamiliar confines couldn't stop it from overwhelming its opposition.
Carmelo Anthony, who was on hand when Team USA lost to Argentina in the semifinals at the 2004 Summer Games, was intent on sending a message in the opener.
“We want to win,” Anthony said prior to the game, per USA Today's Sam Amick. “We want to send a message to the rest of the world that we’re here (on) business, we’re focused on winning, and that’s what we care about. We don’t want to let nothing come in between that."
Team USA heeded Anthony's call. Every player on the roster scored, with Kevin Durant pacing the squad with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field.
As FIBA noted, Durant didn't have to see the court much to reach that total:
DeMarcus Cousins added 17 points and five rebounds. He was a force down low, getting crisp passes from his teammates and using his 6'11", 270-pound frame to overpower his opponents. The Norman Transcript's Fred Katz sympathized with China's frontcourt defenders:
When Paul George checked into the game for the first time midway through the first period, it was his first official contest for the United States since he suffered a horrific leg injury in an exhibition two years ago:
George finished the game with 15 points and three boards in 18 minutes.
As a whole, Team USA shot 51.4 percent from the field and forced China into 24 turnovers.
Former NBA center Yi Jianlian led China with 25 points and tied for a team high with six rebounds. He was the lone bright spot for China on offense, as no other player cracked double digits.
Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski could have sent out any combination of five players to start the game, and it would have looked like a mismatch.
NBC Olympics provided the fearsome opening lineup he settled on for Saturday's contest:
China won the opening tipoff and scored the first two points of the game on free throws from Ding Yanyuhang, but the United States opened a 30-10 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Team USA consistently received the ball on the wing and drove into the lane, forcing the step-slow Chinese defenders to foul or watch as the U.S. cruised to an easy layup.
Durant was hot from the start, scoring eight points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field in the first quarter, while Anthony chipped in with seven points in the opening frame.
The United States defense was just as relentless, with the likes of Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson putting constant pressure on China's perimeter players and challenging every pass.
Lest anyone think Team USA would treat these games like glorified exhibitions and focus only on creative offensive play, Bleacher Report's Michael Pina noted George wanted the United States to play stifling defense:
China had 10 turnovers in the first half, with a number of them coming on steals far from the basket thanks to a strong full-court press by the United States.
China did a better job of hanging with its opponent in the second quarter, but the Stars and Stripes still extended its advantage to 59-30 by halftime.
Coach K turned to his bench to start the second half, but the play turned sloppy, with DeMar DeRozan committing a couple of early turnovers and DeAndre Jordan accruing a couple of fouls and missing several free throws. Even with the dip in quality and concentration from the United States, China still had trouble keeping up.
Team USA snapped back into focus midway through the third quarter, with the starters coming back onto the floor, eventually embarking on a blistering 20-3 run buoyed by a barrage of three pointers by Irving and Durant.
Here's how one string of Team USA possessions looked toward the end of that run, per NBA.com's John Schuhmann:
The United States got plenty of easy looks thanks to some deft ball movement around the perimeter, as this stat update from ESPN's Mark Jones indicated:
Thanks to the high-powered scoring run, Team USA enjoyed a comfortable 91-47 advantage by the end of the third quarter.
The fourth was more of the same, with George doing well to get to the charity stripe and Cousins making his presence felt inside. Despite the lopsided advantage, Coach K still had his team employing the full-court press that worked so well in the first half.
Fox Sports' Rob Perez enjoyed watching George take the ball up the court late in the game:
It was a comprehensive beatdown for Team USA in nearly every aspect of the game, though the three-point shooting from those not named Durant or Irving will have to improve against tougher opponents.
The United States is looking to win its third consecutive gold medal at the Summer Olympics. Team USA's next game in group-stage action will take place Monday at 6 p.m. ET against Venezuela. If Durant, Anthony and the rest of the United States crew can match the level of intensity and athleticism they showed against China, they should have no problem taking down Venezuela.
Krzyzewski had high praise for Durant's performance, saying, "KD is KD. He’s one of the best players in the world,” per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. “He’s playing defense and when he gets going like that, it’s a pretty neat thing to have."
Cousins also praised the team's effort on D.
"That’s our identity—defense first. That’s some that’s preached daily, and it’s something we accept,” Cousins said, per Zillgitt. “That’s how we get the game rolling. That’s how we get our energy.”
Team USA managed 15 steals, with a number of them leading to easy points on the break. Tough, smart play like that should come in handy against Venezuela, who lost to Serbia 86-62 on Saturday.