LONDON — The buzzwords emanating from the U.S. men’s basketball team’s locker room are not new, written long ago under a peach basket somewhere and worn out by every hoops coach since. Be unselfish. Play as a team. Pass the ball.
There are some exceptions, though, and perhaps the biggest challenge facing these descendants of the Dream Team is finding the perfect balance in London. The U.S. team opened these Olympics with a convincing 98-71 victory over France on Sunday in a game that might have foreshadowedKevin Durant’s role at these Summer Games. Regardless of the famous faces around him, Durant’s coaches and teammates want him to find the basket as often as possible.
“He’s a three-time scoring champ. We don’t want the KD that defers,” LeBron James said. “We want the KD that he is in Oklahoma City.”
While the Americans seemingly can’t stop talking about their collective unselfish play, they’re eager for Durant to score at every opportunity. In the team’s final tune-up last week in Barcelona, Durant had 13 points and took just eight shots.
“Coach has been screaming at me, Chris Paul screaming at me more than anybody: ‘Shoot the ball!’ ” Durant said. “I guess I have to be aggressive.”
With Michelle Obama watching from the stands Sunday, Durant had a game-high 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting, and added nine rebounds. Meantime, the team’s other stars were content to play supporting roles.
Four years ago, James opened Olympic play with an impressive 18 points. On Sunday against France, James took just six shots, scoring nine points. More important, he had five rebounds and a game-high eight assists. Similarly, Kobe Bryant took just six shots and finished with 10 points against France.
“We want to play the right way,” James said. “We want to share the ball on offense, we want to defend at a high level, we want to rebound. Whatever comes out of that, we’re happy.”
In a game that featured plenty of sloppy play, ugly shooting and bad passes, the Americans did at least those fundamental things well. They finished with 27 assists, 17 more than France. They outrebounded their opponent 56-40 and had twice as many offensive rebounds (18-9). And their defense stifled France. No French player scored more than 12 points. Tony Parker had just 10, including only four in the second half.
“That’s our strength,” James said. “Strength is our defense, getting out in transition and letting our scorers do what they do.”
In the opening quarter alone, Durant had three breakaway opportunities, two of which resulted in impressive dunks. And because there’s so much talent around him, when Durant was catching his breath, the scoring didn’t slow. Kevin Love came off the bench to score 14 points and all 12 players on the roster finished the game in the scoring column. Even 19-year-old Anthony Davis came off the bench and dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams midway through the final quarter.
“We’re all playing together,” Durant said. “It’s just fun when you see a group of guys, that caliber of player playing together, passing the ball and sacrificing. It’s a beauty to watch, and I’m just glad I’m a part of it.”
The United States will next play Tunisia on Tuesday. Tunisia lost its opener, 60-56, to Nigeria on Sunday, shooting just 40 percent from the field.
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