In one of the most impressive performances in the history of international basketball, Team USA beat Nigeria on Thursday 156-73 on the strength of record-setting team and individual shooting from three-point range. This game, as they say, was over before it even started, but the Americans nevertheless cemented their place in history among their USA Basketball predecessors. Whether or not it carries any weight historically depends if they reach their goal of winning a gold medal, but Team USA only further cemented their status as this tournament’s overwhelming favorite. Following are thoughts and observations gleaned from this awe-inspiring American win.
- The U.S. starters struggled mightily against a similarly overmatched Tunisian squad on Tuesday, finding themselves behind on the scoreboard well into the first quarter. Coach Krzyzewski made wholesale substitutions midway through that quarter and started a different five to open the second half, so it was obvious LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and the rest would come out against Nigeria trying to make a statement. A 13-0 start highlighted by two treys from Durant and a locked-in Kobe Bryant set the tone for this game from the beginning, and given that it was obvious a performance like this was coming all game long.
- Bryant has been quiet for Team USA all summer, never more so than in their first two Olympic games against France and Tunisia. After averaging just nine minutes per game in the Americans’ opening wins and looking nothing like his regular NBA self, Bryant was aggressive from the beginning tonight. He had 12 of Team USA’s first 23 points highlighted by two well-defended three-pointers and a reverse dunk in transition. Later in the second quarter, he isolated his man on one side of the floor as his teammates watched, indicative of his usual mindset returning. Bryant didn’t play in the second-half, but this was a major step in the right direction for Team USA’s senior member regardless.
- James embraced the role of quarterback and distributor more than ever tonight, assisting on each of Durant’s first three baskets from beyond the arc and hardly looking at the basket unless the defense forced him to. LeBron is perhaps the only Team USA player that can be equally aggressive and effective looking for his shot or probing for others, and on a team with so many weapons the latter is most influential to the Americans’ success.
- Carmelo Anthony entered the game with four other bench players with 3:54 left in the first quarter with the game already decided, and immediately showed signs of his performance to come by hitting his first two tries from three-point range. Eight more treys and 31 more points later, he set the record for points scored by a U.S. Olympian with 37. Starting the second half, he connected on five consecutive three-pointers on successive possessions mid-way through the third quarter, breaking USA Basketball’s individual scoring mark in the process. Following his final bucket, Anthony shrugged his shoulders with palms up a la Michael Jordan in the 1992 NBA Finals. A well-deserved accomplishment for one of the most dedicated and tenured players in Olympic history, and hopefully a sign of things to come for Knicks fans in 2012-2013.
- Speaking of three-pointers, it’s been said that the only way Team USA will lose in this tournament is if an opponent gets hot from deep. Well, it goes two ways and that was never more evident than today. Even lacking a traditional sharp-shooter, no team boasts as many long-range threats as Team USA, and if they’re shooting marginally well from behind the arc they won’t be beaten. They got off to a hot start from there today and it continued throughout the remainder of the game, the U.S. setting a national record for three-pointers in the first-half with 14. The Americans finished with an astounding 29 makes from long-range on just 46 attempts, good for a scintillating 63%.
- Post-game, Doc Rivers called this “the best shooting performance in the history of basketball.” Tough to argue.
- Records: Most points by a team in the Olympics (156); Highest margin of defeat in U.S. Olympic history (83); Most three-pointers made by U.S. national team (29); Tied most assists by U.S. national team (38); Most individual points by U.S. Olympian (37)