Basketball: U.S. men cruise past overmatched France
Americans hardly dreamlike, but effective in shutting down French.
Published: July 29, 2012 12:58PM
Updated: July 30, 2012 12:07AM
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USA's Lebron James looks up the court during the first half of a preliminary men's basketball game against France at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

London • First test?

Consider it passed — even if the test was basically the basketball equivalent of coloring inside the lines.

Kevin Durant scored 22 points in his Olympic debut and the U.S. men’s team cruised past overmatched France 98-71 in its opening game at the London Olympics on Sunday afternoon, leaving little question that there’s anything to much trouble the star-studded Americans on their way to the gold medal — even if they can’t ever measure up to the “Dream Team.”

“We just played with attitude,” Durant said, “fighting for each ball, defending hard and getting every rebound. That’s how we beat teams that are hard to beat.”

Hard to beat?

The French offered little resistance after a foul-plagued first quarter, never leading despite having five NBA players on their roster — including point guard Tony Parker, wearing black-rimmed goggles to protect the eye he injured in a New York City nightclub melee.

“USA played a great game,” Parker said, “especially defensively.”

Kevin Love scored 14 points off the bench for the Americans, while Kobe Bryant added 10, then impressively answered questions in fluent Italian after the game. The Americans held the French to 39 percent shooting ­— it was even lower before a throwaway fourth quarter — including just one of their first 16 3-point attempts.

“Not too bad,” point guard Chris Paul said. “Like we’ve been saying all along, our defense is what makes us so good. As long as we go out and do that every night, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

The Americans will have more than a chance — try, a certainty — when they meet No. 32-ranked Tunisia in their next game on Tuesday. That could make the opener against No. 12-ranked France look like it came down to the wire.

“As long as we defend as we did today and we get rebounds, we’ll be fine,” guard Russell Westbrook said.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski started Paul and Durant along with Bryant, LeBron James and center Tyson Chandler, the three regular starters during the team’s pre-Olympic exhibition tour. But he was able to substitute freely, using almost everybody on the roster for at least one quarter of the game.

Even last man off the bench Anthony Davis played eight minutes.

“Overall, a good first step,” Krzyzewski said.

For such a blowout, the game was a little short on show-stopping highlights beyond a spectacular, low-angled, 60-foot bounce pass from James to Durant in the first quarter. That helped get Durant into a flow much like the one he enjoyed as the star of the team during the 2010 world championships.

“Not bad at all, was it?” Bryant said, admiringly.

Ali Traore scored 12 points to lead France, while Parker had 10 on 4-for-11 shooting.

The French also made just 17 of 27 free throws.

That kept them from being in the game beyond the end of the first quarter, when they trailed just 22-21, but promptly gave up 11 points in the first 90 seconds of the second, mostly on the strength of three American 3-pointers by James, Bryant and Paul.

“Our strength is our defense,” James said, “getting out in transition, and then letting our scorers do what they do.”

First lady Michelle Obama congratulated the players as they left the floor, and they expect to give her and their country a lot more to cheer about in the next two weeks.

“We represent all of America,” James said. “We understand that every time we touch the floor, it’s not about the name on our back, it’s the name across our chests. We just have to do it at a higher level and in a respectful way.”

mcl@sltrib.com

Twitter: @MCLTribune

U.S. vs. Tunisia

P Tuesday, 3:15 a.m.

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