LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. men’s basketball team launched their Olympic title defense with a joyful display of high-flying skill fuelled by camaraderie, soaring past France 98-71 on Sunday.
No-look assists, alley-oop passes for thunderous dunks and sublime ball sharing drew oohs and ahs from a packed Olympic Basketball Arena crowd appreciative of their electric team play on the opening day of action in the men’s basketball tournament.
“The thing that we have going for us is continuity,” said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has compiled a 55-1 record in international competition after taking over the team in 2006.
“In Beijing (2008) I had not coached those guys in the Olympics and now I have coached five of them,” he said.
“I coached five (others) of them in the world championships in Istanbul, so there’s a familiarity with our staff and our players that lends itself to greater camaraderie. I think we have that on this team. I think it’s even better now.”
EuroBasket silver medalists France, whose preparation for the Games was hampered due to an eye injury to star guard Tony Parker and contract concerns with Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, kept the game close early before the U.S. team cut loose.
The Americans blew it open after a 22-21 first quarter by scoring the first 11 points of the second quarter and then raised their game even higher.
Kevin Durant led the way with 22 points, with Kevin Love coming off the bench to contribute 14 inside points.
Ali Traore led France with 12 points, and Parker scored 10.
“This is the first game of the tournament, it is not the last game,” said Florent Pietrus, who had eight points for France. “We are disappointed, but not frustrated.”
LeBron James only put nine points on the scoreboard, but had a hand in a number of highlight moments, making a jaw-dropping bounce pass through traffic covering two-thirds of the court to hit Kevin Durant going to the basket.
After one nifty, no-look drop off pass from James Harden, “King” James finished at the hoop with a ferocious slam that moved him to hang swaying from the rim for an extra few seconds to celebrate.
“We don’t want anyone on the team to change,” said James, about the collection of NBA All-Stars coming together as a team.
“Everyone’s here for a reason and we just want them to be themselves. We don’t want them to change, we do want them to adapt. That’s going to make this team very dangerous.”
French coach Vincent Collet bemoaned his team’s poor shooting (2-of-22 from three-point range) and credited the U.S. team’s quickness and pressure defense.
Collet also said he thought meeting the United States in the opening game of the men’s tournament was bad timing.
”We had the chance to play them first and they want to show everybody that the tournament will be their tournament,“ Collet said. ”And I think they did it today.
“But they will have some other games to play and other teams will try to do better than we did today and for our sake I hope we have a second chance against them,” added the French coach, who could get another crack at the Americans in quarter-finals.
Next up for the U.S. team will be Tunisia, while France play a key game against Argentina on Tuesday.
Editing by Nigel Hunt