RIO DE JANEIRO — Three thoughts on Team USA’s dominant 119–62 debut win over China at the Rio Olympics on Saturday:
1. Carmelo may be the leader, but Kevin Durant was the killer. If you’re into the details of a 57-point game, let the record state that Team USA started this game looking sluggish and sloppy. There were rushed jumpers that turned into missed jumpers, a handful of turnovers and China was getting a surprising number of open looks. The Americans were winning with size, foul shots and fast breaks. Even after a first quarter that ended with a 20-point lead, there was very little rhythm to any of this. And then Kevin Durant heated up. He hit back-to-back threes in the second quarter, and that’s when Team USA looked as unfair as everyone expected. His shooting alone made the whole offense more coherent. Durant kept it going in the second half and finished with 25 points, including 5-of-8 on threes. He was open for most of those looks, but then, at 6' 9" with 30-foot range, I’m not sure he’ll ever really be guarded in these Olympics. Even on this roster, KD is a whole different level of unfair.
This could be a preview of how Team USA works in Rio. On a roster that’s bigger and stronger than everyone it’ll play, Team USA will wear teams down just by walking on the court. And then, I’m pretty sure Durant is the one who will break them.
2. China was doomed, but delightful. I have a soft spot for China basketball after Saturday. It didn’t matter that it was 50-point underdogs and this was over after four minutes; watching them try to score on guys twice as big and twice as fast turned into its own spectacle. Twisting, leaning, pump-faking into oblivion—I’ve spent decades taking the same ambitious, completely hopeless shots that China tried in the paint on Saturday.
They also kept pushing the ball no matter how out of hand the game got. Yi Jianlian had 25 points to lead them, and every loose ball that went China’s way turned into another frenetic fast-break adventure, which was only amplified by the Rio crowd. In between sporadic “U-S-A” chants, the whole stadium chimed in with “Ole, Ole, Oleeeeeee, Chee-naaa, Chee-naaaaaaaa.” It all built into something more fun than a 57-point game should have been. China didn’t cover on the scoreboard, but it covered in my heart.
See the best photos from USA Basketball’s dominating win over China
U.S. 119, China 62
3. We have no idea how good Team USA is. Here’s what we know as of Saturday: Team USA’s best lineup is probably some version of Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Durant, and either Draymond Green or Boogie Cousins. ... Sadly, a change in hemisphere hasn’t solved DeAndre Jordan’s free throw issues (3-of-10) ... DeMar Derozan is here to dunk on every country in the world, and when he’s done, DeAndre will try ... Harrison Barnes is the 12th man ... Tom Thibodeau looks great in a polo shirt ... Boogie is not getting boxed out all summer ... And, obviously, they’ve destroyed everyone they’ve played over the past month.
But that stretch included two exhibitions against China, and games against Venezuela, Argentina and Nigeria. How many of those teams actually belong on the same floor? Argentina is solid, but aging across the board. The rest of those countries were doomed before tip-off. China just lost three games by 156 points. It all makes the American team much harder to gauge. This isn’t about concern, but curiosity. Not every team in Rio will be this overmatched from the start. Let’s see what Team USA looks like when it actually has to pay attention.