(The Root) — The U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team needed a good challenge Sunday in its opening game against France because the next two opponents are lightly regarded Tunisia and Nigeria, which could lose by 70 points combined.
The two African nations are making their Olympic debut in 2012, which also marks the first time that a pair of countries from the continent have qualified in men’s basketball. Conversely, France, which won a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics, is led by veteran San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and boasts several other NBA players on its roster.
The French trailed by just one point after the first quarter Sunday, but Team USA cruised from there for a 98-71 victory. “We’re pleased,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a postgame interview. “We played a very good game against an outstanding team. France is so well-coached, and in Parker, they have as good of a guard as there is in the tournament.”
Parker almost couldn’t compete after suffering an eye injury in June, when he was caught in the bottle-throwing crossfire at a New York nightclub during a fight involving singer Chris Brown and members of hip-hop star Drake’s entourage. Parker, who is wearing protective goggles during the Olympics, had 10 points but only one assist against Team USA.
“They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said. France coach Vincent Collet detected a message being sent. “Sometimes a team wants to show this is their tournament,” Collet said. “They did it.”
The result made you question the popular opinion that France could present trouble as an opening matchup for Team USA. After Sunday, it appears that the only problem might be excessive unselfishness, especially from Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant. He led the Americans with 22 points, despite passing up several wide-open shots.
“He’s a three-time scoring champ,” LeBron James said. “We don’t want the KD that defers. We want the KD that he is in Oklahoma City.”
The Americans have no problem sharing the ball, as evidenced by their 31 field goals and 27 assists. But they would prefer it if Durant focused on his shooting more than his passing. “Coach has been screaming at me, [and] Chris Paul screaming at me more than anybody: ‘Shoot the ball!’ ” Durant said. “I guess I have to be aggressive.”
It’s unlikely to matter, but that’s bad news for Tunisia (Tuesday, 5:15 p.m. EDT) and Nigeria (Thursday, 5:15 p.m. EDT). Perhaps the only downside for the Americans is that they won’t be able to hug the first lady afterward. Oh well. Next!