RIO DE JANEIRO (CBS / AP) — Red, white and blase for one quarter, the U.S. Olympic team woke up and won with ease.
Shaking off a sluggish, sloppy start and maybe some Brazilian boredom, the Americans regrouped in the second quarter and romped over Venezuela 113-69 on Monday, taking another step toward a possible third straight gold medal.
Kevin Durant scored 16 points and Carmelo Anthony 14 for the U.S. squad, which may have grown a touch overconfident following a 57-point blowout of China in its tournament opener.
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The Americans were tied at 18-all after one quarter, but stopped turning the ball over and fouling, unleashed their defense and outscored Venezuela 30-8 in the second period. They cruised from there, improving to 82-1 under coach Mike Krzyzewski and reminding everyone it’s going to take a special performance for 40 minutes to deny them another Olympic title.
“Everything’s not going to be easy,” Durant said. “We know that, even with this great team.”
It was similar to the meeting between the teams in Chicago on July 29, when the U.S. shot poorly and still won by 35 on their pre-Rio exhibition tour. Maybe this was a reminder that no team can be taken lightly — and there is little margin for error — once the Olympic flame is ignited.
“Once we settled down, made our adjustments to the way they were calling the game, the way that Venezuela wanted to play the game, that second quarter we picked it up defensively and turned it around,” Anthony said.
The Americans continue pool play on Wednesday against unbeaten Australia. The Aussies, featuring five NBA players, four of them league champions, improved to 2-0 on Monday with an impressive 95-80 win over Serbia. Australia has never won an Olympic medal in men’s basketball, but Krzyzewski knows the team from Down Under will be up for the Americans.
“I don’t think they’ve gone back to their boat or apartment or wherever they’re staying thinking they can’t beat us,” the coach said. “They feel like they can beat us and we understand that.”
Anthony, the four-team Olympian and two-time gold medalist playing in his record 25th game for the United States, provided a much-needed spark in the second quarter.
With the Americans leading just 28-22 and looking anything but golden, Anthony came across the lane and stripped the ball away from Venezuelan center Gregory Echenique and passed it to Kyrie Irving. Anthony followed Irving up the floor, accepted a feed on the wing and knocked down a 3-pointer that lifted some of the pressure — and fog — off Team USA.
“That changed the game,” said Paul George, who led the U.S. with 20 points. “Melo made that three and it gave us all confidence.”
Anthony moved past Michael Jordan on the career scoring list and now only trails LeBron James and David Robinson for the most points by an American Olympian.
“I never even knew that,” Anthony said. “Anytime you can break a record or make history or pass somebody like Michael Jordan, it’s an honor. We still have more games to go so hopefully we can break more records.”
Jimmy Butler scored 17 — most of them coming in extended garbage time — and DeAndre Jordan added 14 and nine rebounds in the first Olympic matchup between the nations.
Venezuela’s John Cox, a cousin of American superstar Kobe Bryant, scored 19 and Echenique 18.
Although this may not be the best made-in-America team as James, Stephen Curry and others chose to skip the first games held in South America for a variety of reasons, the U.S. squad that came to Brazil appears to be in a class by itself. There will likely be tougher games ahead, but they haven’t had one yet.
Venezuela, which doesn’t have an NBA player on its roster, didn’t figure to be a threat but the FIBA Americas champion wasn’t intimidated by the U.S. roster of household names and with their fans doing all they could to push the heavy underdogs, they outworked the Americans in the first quarter, which ended with the U.S. committing six turnovers.
It was a very different story in the second, when the Americans flexed their muscle at both ends, reeled off 13 straight points in one stretch and took complete control.
“They have a lot of shooters, no?” Venezuela coach Nestor Garcia said with a smile.
They have a lot of everything.
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