First lady Michelle Obama hugs US men's basketball players after win over France
The shrill of whistles came fast and furious.
For a stretch in the first half, it seemed the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team was having more trouble with the referees than with France.
“There were calls being called that didn’t seem right,” said forward Carmelo Anthony. “One time down the floor they called it this way, and one time they called it that way.”
This squad of Americans will have to make some adjustments as the competition continues, but Sunday they overcame their own sloppiness, the refs and a sluggish start to beat France 98-71 in their tournament opener.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points in his Olympic debut, Kevin Love had 14 and LeBron James added nine points, five rebounds and eight assists.
As openers go, the U.S. wasn’t dreamy, but still dominant.
The U.S. only led by one point after the first quarter but outscored a France team featuring Tony Parker and five other NBA players 76-50 over the final three periods.
“We got stops and made shots,” Durant said, explaining the turning point. “Simple enough.”
If it was only that easy.
The Americans became flustered in the first half when they whistled for 18 fouls, some of them on silly reach-ins. As they left the court leading by 16 at halftime, the U.S. players reminded each other that they would have to play much smarter if they intend to win gold medals.
“Our mindset is that from here on out that’s how it’s going to be officiated,” said Anthony, who didn’t start and then was forced to the bench in the first half after picking up his third personal.
Durant said he and his teammates let some of the calls affect their play. Not again.
“It’s tough, but we know now,” he said. “We can’t worry about the refs and just play our game. Guys played hard even though there were some calls that didn’t go our way. That’s the name of the game. We just gotta keep playing through it.”
Seeking a second straight gold to match the redemptive one they captured in Beijing four years ago, the Americans expected a tough test from the French. They got enough of one 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.”
Parker, who wore goggles to protect his left eye which was injured by broken glass during a nightclub brawl in New York, didn’t want to concede anything to the Americans.
But when asked if the U.S. team can be beaten, San Antonio’s All-Star guard 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 defensive pressure 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.
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.
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 Americans led 64-43.
Au revoir, France.
The U.S. team’s lead ballooned to 78-51 after three quarters, allowing Krzyzewski to rest Bryant, James and Durant for most of the fourth quarter. With the game well in hand, Krzyzewski even gave 19-year-old Anthony Davis, the top pick in June’s NBA draft, his first taste of Olympic play.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.