U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony reacts after making one of his 10 three-pointers… (Charles Krupa / Associated…)
Below are five things to take from Team USA's 156-73 win Thursday over Nigeria:
1. Team USA stormed off to a great start and didn't let up. It turns out France and Tunisia woke up a sleeping giant. And anyone wondering if Team USA could correct its early shooting problems no longer need to question it. Team USA posted a near-perfect performance that can be broken down in several areas.
First the historical: Team USA's 156 points set the record for most points in an Olympic basketball game, which Brazil once had when it scored 138 points over Egypt in 1988. The U.S.' 83-point margin of victory tops a 72-point victory over the Philippines in 1956. Carmelo Anthony's 37 points on 13-of-16 shooting marked the most by a U.S. player since Stephon Marbury scored 31 in the 2004 Athens Olympics. The team also set Olympic records for three-pointers (29), field-goal percentage (71.1%) and three-point shooting (46).
Second the performance: Team USA scored 49 points in the first quarter, which at 10 minutes is two minutes shorter than the NBA's. It held Nigeria scoreless until the 6:49 mark. The U.S. stormed out to a 13-0 run because of fluid ball movement, lockdown defense and energy, three components that were lacking in its two previous games. Five players scored in double figures, including Anthony (37), Russell Westbrook (21), Kobe Bryant (16), Kevin Love (15) and Kevin Durant (14). Anthony Davis and Andre Iguodala each scored nine.
Third the implications: There's several ways to interpret it. Nigeria boasts only two NBA players and is making its first Olympic appearance. Yet it's far more developed than the Angolan team that lost 116-48 to the 1992 Dream Team. Team USA benefited from the time to rest its legs on Wednesday. Or perhaps activities such as Anthony, Durant and James Harden's playing beach volleyball helped build a stronger bond. Perhaps Team USA will have even stronger focus in its remaining pool-play games, against Lithuania (Saturday) and Argentina (Monday). Or maybe it will be a challenge staying humble after such a blowout.
Whatever the case, Team USA put on a dominant performance and made it beautiful to watch.
2. Anthony has established a niche off the bench. At one point during his hot shooting streak, Anthony simply lifted up his shoulders and imitated a shrug Michael Jordan had after hitting five consecutive three-pointers in the 1992 NBA Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. Anthony wasn't just having a hot shooting night. He benefited from appearing in rhythm every time he caught the ball. In nearly every sequence, Anthony stepped into his shot, squared up and then let the ball sink through the net. The result: Anthony's 37 points included a 10-of-12 mark from three-point range. The same thing happened in Team USA's win over Tunisia, when he scored 12 points on six-of-six shooting.
On a team full of superstars, Anthony has found his niche coming off the bench by simply tapping into his scoring instincts. But his speciality has become easier than his time with the New York Knicks for a multitude of reasons. He has stronger talent around him that also demand attention from the defense. Team USA has proven exceptional in ensuring crisp ball movement. But more importantly, Anthony's effectively moved off the ball and has appeared instantly ready on catch-and-shoot opportunities. It's likely these kind of performances will continue.
3. Bryant had a strong start. Right from the opening tipoff, Bryant provided all sorts of images epitomizing his dominance. He sank both of his long three-point attempts. Bryant displayed an array of turnaround and pull-up jumpers that showcased his superior footwork. He set up Kevin Durant different times on catch-and-shoot opportunities and an alley-oop lob. Bryant even threw down a 180 dunk on the fastbreak.
Simply put, Bryant's 16 points on six-of-eight shooting, three rebounds, two assists and two steals represented everything Team USA would need out of the Lakers' star. And he managed to do so despite playing only 11 minutes, including sitting out the second half. In the previous two games, Bryant had scored only 21 points on four-of-11 shooting in an average of 10.5 minutes. Bryant and Coach Mike Krzyzewski want to limit his minutes and productivity so he's fresh for the single-elimination games. But Bryant displayed the ultimate blueprint against Nigeria by maximizing his play in the same limited amount of playing time.
4. Westbrook provided lots of energy. Just as he did when he ran laps around the Lakers' slow defense, Westbrook appeared all over the place against Nigeria. His 21-point performance featured both strong outside shooting (three of four from downtown), tough defense (two steals) and a whole bunch of fast-break points (including a one-handed lob from Love).
Even though Anthony has established himself as Team USA's sixth man, Westbrook's energy and speed has helped set the tone in ensuring Team USA plays at a fast rate.
5. Team USA had way too many highlight reels. Bryant threw down a 180 dunk. Westbrook threw down a one-handed alley oop. Anthony Davis (nine points, four of four shooting) continued feeding lobs from teammates the minute he checked into the game in the second half. LeBron James catapulted the crowd with a poweful one-handed slam. And of course, Team USA made a barrage of three-pointers. This game was simply an offensive showcase.
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