Olympics Basketball 2012: Team USA 98–France 71

Team USA would live and die in the 2012 Olympics by forcing turnovers and taking three-pointers.  We knew that when this team was being molded in training camp, it was more evident through five undefeated exhibition games, and that held true in today’s 98-71 beating of France.  Of course, “die” might not be the right word when talents like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and the rest all dot the same roster.

This American squad, it seems at times, is invincible unlike any since the Dream Team 20 years ago.  They routinely let the opposition stick around or make a comeback, letting doubt and their lack of size and sometimes offensive patience enter the mind, before buckling down and playing passing lanes and connecting from deep.  That’s just how it played out in Team USA’s first game of Olympic pool play, as they led just 22-21 after the first quarter.  But then James hit a three, Kobe Bryant another, and finally and inevitably Durant got in on the act.  In the blink of an eye the U.S. lead ballooned to 52-36 by halftime on the strength of six treys and 11 French turnovers, and any suspense gleaned from a shaky and disjointed first quarter was quickly forgotten.

In an Olympics that features more NBA players than ever, the Americans’ depth and athleticism is what sets them apart from the field more than anything else.  That’s not to say their top-end talent isn’t just as influential to their success, and that was never more evident than today.  Playing like extreme versions of their NBA Finals selves, James and Durant dominated this game in ways only they could, the former showcasing his unmatched versatility on both ends and the latter long-range shooting and knack for finding space that makes him the world’s best scorer.

James finished with nine points, five rebounds, eight assists, and two steals, highlighted by a two-minute stretch in the third quarter that saw him throw a lob to Tyson Chandler, finish one from Deron Williams, and dish a no-look pass to Carmelo Anthony for a dunk.  Durant, LeBron’s NBA foil, led Team USA with 22 points, tied for the team lead with nine rebounds, and chipped in two blocks and two steals in another seemingly effortless performance.  It goes without saying, but this team won’t lose if their best players perform like this.  Combined with James and Durant, supporting and previously unnamed talents like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook give the Americans too much for the opposition to handle.

France, meanwhile, should be encouraged by several performances from some of their lesser-known players.  Tony Parker and Boris Diaw struggled, but the French weren’t embarrassed by the U.S. due to solid play from their bench, most notably big man Ali Traore and wing Florent Pietrus (brother of the NBA’s Mickael).  Even without their best NBA exports making a huge impact, it was obvious this is a team with more depth than any in the Olympics other than the Americans.  Leaning on that and similarly rare athleticism, France looks like a potential medal candidate out of Group A.

Team USA will continue Olympic play against Tunisia on Tuesday, while France has showdown with Argentina slated several hours after.  The Americans will have little trouble and should be able to play their bench for extended minutes, but in Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and company the French face another stiff test in their quest to emerge from the group.

jackwinter