There was nothing new about China. The United States played the Chinese twice back home on its way to the Olympics, winning the two games by a combined 99 points.
When the crowd in Brazil started doing a very noisy wave in the middle of a DeAndre Jordan free throw, that was new – an instant and raucous lesson in the unique world of international basketball for the six American players who had yet to represent their country anywhere but within its borders.
Kevin Durant has seen it. Carmelo Anthony has seen it. Jordan, whose makes and misses in a 3-for-10 performance from the line did not correlate with the noise in the arena, has not.
“I was telling Kyrie (Irving) and Melo that the wave never dies,” Durant said. “That doesn’t happen in the states.”
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That education is just beginning for the American team, which showed progress in its Olympic opener by extending its margin of victory over China to a whopping 57 in a 119-62 win, showing improvement on defense to go with some try-and-stop-me shooting from Durant and Irving.
Durant, in the first half, started tossing in 3-pointers almost effortlessly, making three in a row on three straight possessions before launching a heat-check 35-footer that clanged. Irving got going in the second half from his preferred right corner spot. And DeMarcus Cousins had his way with the tall but skinny Chinese forwards inside. Durant finished with 25 to lead the Americans, who were actually more proud of their defensive commitment than their offense.
“Coaches usually will nitpick, which they should, because you have to get better at something,” Draymond Green said. “We didn’t do everything right out there tonight.”
There won’t be much for U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski to nitpick because there wasn’t much the United States didn’t do right. While this opener was really more of a glorified exhibition – Las Vegas had the United States as a 50-point favorite – it did confirm, in real competition, a first unit of Durant, Irving, Cousins, Anthony and Klay Thompson, although that could change Monday against Venezuela after Thompson had a dismal shooting night.
The mix-and-match seven-man second unit provoked an overseas rendition of a classic K-ism after the game. “They don’t have a position,” he said, although he did not go as far with them as he once did with Kyle Singler: “His position is winner.”
“They can switch everything and they have great attitudes,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re good about doing that. It’s just a different look. Our team can have a few different looks and if one of them’s going real well we’ll stay with that look.”
That second unit got plenty of action in the late moments. China went on a 6-0 run to cut the U.S. lead to 25 early in the third quarter, but the Americans pulled away from there.
“I thought it was a great way to finish,” said Harrison Barnes, but he was mildly biased. The last U.S. player to enter the game, he scored six of his eight points in the final 4:06.
It will get tougher. This team still hasn’t encountered any real difficulty or adversity, coming only as close as a TMZ report that three members of the team were spotted having a drink at a notorious Rio brothel they thought was a spa. If the team continues to play like this, that incident may do more to bolster their reputation as it becomes part of their legend rather than an unneeded distraction.
Venezuela shouldn’t be a threat, and Australia will be motivated but overmatched, but Serbia and France loom at the end of the group stage, both top-10 teams internationally capable of pulling an upset, however unlikely that may be.
China was not equipped for such matters. The United States knew that before the game was ever played. There’s so much still to learn, and only two weeks left to do it.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock