London • He could have thrown a pebble at a peephole, and it would have gone in.
Carmelo Anthony erupted for 37 points — including 10 3-pointers — in a transcendent performance that helped the star-studded U.S. men’s basketball team destroy helpless Nigeria from the opening tip with a record-setting barrage of baskets in a 156-73 victory at the London Olympics on Thursday night.
Even the Dream Team never beat anybody that badly.
It was the biggest blowout in American Olympic history, eclipsing a 72-point victory over Thailand in the 1956 Melbourne Games, and Anthony set a national single-game scoring record.
“We had it going,” Anthony said. “It could have been anybody out there on the court, playing against us. … It wouldn’t have mattered, if we were shooting the ball like that.”
In a word?
The Americans shot an astonishing 71 percent, and made nearly as many 3-pointers (29) as two-pointers (30). They broke the Olympic scoring record of 138 points midway through the fourth quarter, and rose from the bench to slap hands with coach Mike Krzyzewski when it was announced to the crowd.
The victory clinched a place in the knockout round for the 3-0 Americans, who seemed to send a message to the rest of the field by attempting 46 3-pointers (they tried only 37 from inside the arc) and shooting until the very end.
“We just shot better than any team in a game that I’ve ever coached,” said Krzyzewski, who has coached 1,216 of them in his college coaching career. “Our guys just couldn’t miss.”
In a groove like few players anywhere, at any time, Anthony rang up his record total in just 14 ½ minutes.
He didn’t start. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
Yet he still stroked 10 of 12 3-pointers, made 13 of 16 shots overall, and eclipsed Stephon Marbury’s national Olympic scoring record of 31 points, against Spain in the 2004 Athens Games. He also set national records for both 3-pointers made and attempted.
“It’s an accomplishment,” Anthony said. “Anytime you have a chance to reach a milestone or reach an accomplishment, you want to do it, and tonight was one of them examples.”
The game was such a blowout that the stadium announcer chuckled once when reading the score, and Krzyzewski bristled in the postgame news conference at a question for Nigeria’s Ike Diogu about whether he felt as if the Americans were trying to “humiliate” his team by shooting 3-pointers even into the final few minutes.
Diogu said no.
But Krzyzewski said, “I take offense to his question, because there’s no way in the world that our program in the United States is out to humiliate anyone.”
In his defense, Krzyzewski noted that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant again played very little, barely 21 minutes between them. The Americans also didn’t fast-break in the fourth quarter — they were ahead 119-62 after the third — and played all zone defense.
“You have a take a shot every 24 seconds,” Krzyzewski said. “The shots we took happened to be hit.”
Right from the tip, too.
After two sluggish starts against France and Tunisia, the Americans came out unleashed and on fire, with Bryant leading them to a 13-0 lead in just a few minutes. Amazingly, it was 49-25 by the end of the first quarter, and 78-45 at halftime.
Six players reached double-figures, including Russell Westbrook with 21 off the bench and Bryant with 16.
The Nigerians had no answers.
Diogu scored 27 points, but coach Ayko Bakare blamed “mistakes on defense” for allowing the U.S. too many open shots. But he could have put 10 players on the floor, and it might not have mattered.
“We played four quarters unbelievable,” U.S. center Tyson Chandler said. “I’ve never seen four quarters put together like that in a basketball game. Our whole thing is, we’re never going to cheat the game. We’re going to represent our country, come out and play hard every single second, and that’s what we did.”
A by-the-numbers look at the records set in the USA’s 156-73 win vs. Nigeria on Thursday:
10 • 3-pointers made by Carmelo Anthony (U.S. record)
29 • Total 3-pointers made (U.S. record)
37 • Points scored by Anthony (U.S. record)
59 • Total field goals made (U.S. record)
71 • Field-goal percentage (U.S. record)
78 • First-half points (Olympic record)
83 • Margin of victory (U.S. record)
156 • Total points (Olympic record)