Luke DeCock

Rough seas for U.S. early in another slow start, big win — DeCock

USA's forward Carmelo Anthony (R) works around Venezuela's point guard David Cubillan during a Men's round Group A basketball match between USA and Venezuela at the Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
USA's forward Carmelo Anthony (R) works around Venezuela's point guard David Cubillan during a Men's round Group A basketball match between USA and Venezuela at the Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. AFP/Getty Images

The United States still isn’t making things easy on itself and Mike Krzyzewski might buy a boat, which together made Monday’s 44-point win over Venezuela slightly more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

Krzyzewski was responding to a French reporter’s question about the team’s decision to stay on a cruise ship anchored in Rio’s harbor during the Olympics instead of the athlete village. It triggered a comical Krzyzewski monologue that was light-hearted enough to avoid an international incident.

“We don’t live on a boat. We’re staying on a boat,” Krzyzewski said. “I actually live in Durham, N.C., and have a swimming pool. Once in a while I get on a raft and lie in there. But I’ve never really thought about living on a boat. Since 1992 the U.S. teams have stayed in different locations and because of the accommodations here, that was good.

“And it’s not our boat. We’re not the only people on the boat. There are other people on the boat that we see, that we say ‘good morning’ to, ‘hello.’ We’ve actually made friends on the boat. I never knew I would have boat friends. In fact now that I’m talking about it, I might go buy a boat.”

If the U.S. coach was in a bantering mood, it might have been because his team once again started slowly, carrying over from the exhibitions leading up to the Olympics, but could still rely on its defense when nothing else seemed to be going right before wearing down the Venezuelans for a 113-69 win.

Plagued by turnovers and fouls while being outrebounded by Venezuela and struggling to adjust to the international officiating, the score was tied 20-20 midway through the second quarter before a 25-4 U.S. run essentially put the game away.

And it’s not our boat. We’re not the only people on the boat. There are other people on the boat that we see, that we say ‘good morning’ to, ‘hello.’ We’ve actually made friends on the boat. I never knew I would have boat friends. In fact now that I’m talking about it, I might go buy a boat.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski

So what was going on?

First, there’s the ongoing adjustment to the officiating with so many new players, especially in the post. That wasn’t an issue against China, but Venezuela has the former Creighton center Gregory Echenique, whose bulk put the American players in difficult positions. DeMarcus Cousins spent the entire night in foul trouble, and the issue will come up again Wednesday against Australia’s Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes.

“In the NBA, we can use two hands to defend the post,” Draymond Green said. “As soon as you put two hands on them, they blew the whistle. It’s a little different. It’s an adjustment. We’ll adjust. It takes a little getting used to. First game, we didn’t really have to guard the post. It’s good to face that challenge. You learn those rules.”

There was also a surprising sloppiness with the ball, leading to eight first-half turnovers, and combined with Venezuela’s ability to control the tempo of the game early, the miniscule possibility of an upset still existed through one quarter. By halftime, it did not.

There’s a lot of room for error when five players score in double figures and everyone on the roster but Klay Thompson scored. Jimmy Butler added 17 and DeAndre Jordan 14 off the bench while Carmelo Anthony’s 14 points were enough to move him past Michael Jordan and into third place in U.S. Olympic history.

“Carmelo’s pretty old, you know,” Jordan noted.

At this stage of the tournament, there’s little for the United States to gain and everything to lose. Slow starts are a minor inconvenience as long as the Americans stay healthy and keep winning by 40 or 50.

And with three minutes to go, Paul George delivered what the fans had been waiting more of two games to see from the Americans: A breakaway tomahawk dunk delivered with tremendous force.

“That felt good,” said George. It looked good, too, on a night when the Americans didn’t always.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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