LONDON – The hiccups outnumbered the highlights, and for a while the U.S. racked up fouls faster than points.
The opener wasn’t artistic.
However, it was enough – easily enough.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points in his Olympic debut, Kevin Love added 14 and LeBron James had eight assists as the American men’s basketball team overcame some sloppy moments with a 98-71 win Sunday over France.
“We know everybody else expects us to win by 40 points,” said Carmelo Anthony. “For us, a win’s a win. We expect every game to be like this one.”
Seeking a second straight gold medal to match the redemptive one they captured in Beijing four years ago, the Americans expected a tough test from a French team featuring San Antonio guard Tony Parker and five other NBA players. And although the U.S. was never in real trouble – it only led 22-21 after one quarter – there were enough flaws (14 turnovers, 26 fouls) to keep coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff busy and this superstar-laden squad from feeling too comfortable.
“It wasn’t perfect,” said James, who only took six shots while setting up his teammates. “We’ve still got room for improvement. We had too many turnovers, too many fouls and we had a couple of defensive rebounds we could have come up with. But overall, we played a pretty good game for as close to 40 minutes as possible.”
Kobe Bryant had said this team could beat the 1992 Dream Team that changed international hoops forever at the Barcelona Games. That matchup is mythical, but the London Games aren’t and this U.S. team will have to play much better in upcoming games if it plans to maintain American dominance.
“We know we have to keep going for 40 minutes and play hard,” said Bryant, who only played 12 minutes.
Afterward, Parker, who nearly missed these games after undergoing surgery for a freak eye injury, didn’t want to concede anything to the Americans. But when asked if the U.S. team can be beat, he took a contemplative pause before responding.
“They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said.
At times, the Americans’ offense was erratic. The U.S missed its first six 3-pointers and settled too quickly for jump shots instead of driving to the basket. But France wasn’t able to capitalize as the U.S. turned up its pressure on defense and forced 18 turnovers.
With first lady Michelle Obama on hand to cheer on the U.S., Durant, Anthony and Tyson Chandler added nine rebounds apiece for the Americans, who will next play Tuesday against Tunisia, beaten 60-56 by Nigeria in the tournament opener.
As they left the floor, the U.S. players stopped to hug Mrs. Obama, who can report back to her commander-in- chief husband that his favorite team has taken its first step toward gold.
Parker, playing with goggles to protect a surgically repaired left eye, scored 10 points but France fell to 0-5 in Olympic competition against the USA. Ali Traore scored 12 points to lead France, which got few uncontested looks from the outside and missed 20 of 22 3-pointers.
“They pressured us from the start until the end,” said France coach Vincent Collet.
With the U.S. leading 52-36 at halftime, Durant opened the second half with a 3-pointer, Bryant dropped one from long range and after James dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams, the U.S. led 64-43.
Au revoir, France.
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