Despite continuing its summer trend of stumbling out of the gate early on, Team USA was still able to manufacture a resounding 98-71 victory over France.
In a haphazard game that saw an astounding 52 foul calls, the majority of that scoring margin came from a decided edge for the U.S. from behind the arc. The French kept it close in the early going thanks to some cold shooting by both teams, but while Team USA eventually found their stroke, the lid stayed on the rim for France as it ended the game with an abysmal 2-for-22 mark from 3-point range.
The second period proved to be the decisive quarter for Team USA. Led by Kevin Durant (22 pts, 3-for-5 3-pt FG, 9 rebs), the Americans made six of their eight 3s to turn a one-point first quarter lead into a 16-point halftime cushion. With Tony Parker still rounding into form from an off-season eye injury, no Joakim Noah (out for the entire Olympics) and budding Portland Trail Blazer star Nicolas Batum limited to only 18 minutes, France simply didn't have the horses to keep up in this one.
As basketball becomes more and more strategic, it's almost ironic that sometimes the easiest way to score is simply to throw the ball near the rim and let a bigger, more athletic player go get it. Multiple players on Team USA are capable of doing this, but in particular Tyson Chandler and LeBron James. There are simply no opponents in this tournament that can consistently win aerial battles with that duo. Look for the U.S. to call for lobs or designed slips (fake screens) when their halfcourt offense becomes a little too jumpshot-happy for Coach K's liking.
Another solid halfcourt look for Team USA was James' post game. It continued to open things up for the American attack despite facing yet another opposing frontcourt with legitimate NBA size. This will be a stabilizing action for the U.S. if future opponents are able to slow down the game by limiting live-ball turnovers.
However, that whole slowing-down-Team USA thing is far easier said than done. Early on, France crashed the offense glass, looking to extract extra possessions against a height-challenged U.S. roster. But instead of trying to match France's effort on the boards, the Americans doubled-down and became even more aggressive leaking out in transition.
More than once, Kevin Durant could be seen streaking down court before the shot attempt from France was even off the rim. Concerned with the possibility of a parade of breakaway dunks, a demoralized French squad put forth noticeably less effort for offensive rebounds as the game wore on. It will be interesting to see how this wrinkle affects the gameplan for the two foes (Brazil and Spain) with a distinct size-advantage over the U.S.
Speaking of wearing down opponents, the ball-hawking defense employed by Team USA also took its toll on France. No longer restrained by the NBA's defensive three-seconds rule, the U.S. continues to look more and more comfortable aggressively flooding the lane when the ball is located on one side of the floor. This strongside pinch, combined with Team USA's athleticism, was the primary reason France's two primary ballhandlers (Parker and Nando De Colo) combined for more than twice as many turnovers (9) as assists (4).
As a whole, Team USA didn't have too many glaring issues. The biggest concern was perhaps how bogged down their halfcourt offense became during the stretches when France went to a switch-heavy defense. Finding a mismatch and attacking it in an isolation is the typical remedy for such a scheme. Unfortunately, iso-heavy attacks typically stunt ball movement and this was no exception.
On top of that, the rule differences and smaller dimensions in the international game also make this counter a bit trickier. Guards have less space to drive by lumbering big men while post-ups can receive double teams more readily. In effect, the correct foil to this defensive scheme becomes a far more inefficient proposition in the Olympics than it would be in the more refined NBA. Fortunately for the U.S., Spain and Brazil seem unlikely to employ this strategy given their personnel. Russia, whose rotation is compromised mostly of players between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9, is a different story.
A couple of individuals for Team USA had rather forgettable performances. With the way opponents are going to target him, Kevin Love may as well change the number on the back of his jersey to a red, white and blue bullseye. Each time Love checked into the game, France showed no hesitation in feeding the ball to his man in the post. Boris Diaw, Kevin Seraphin and Ali Traore all had varying degrees of success on the block against Love. With the Gasols from Spain and Nene from Brazil looming in the medal rounds, Love's defense is becoming more and more of a concern, even if he produces on offense like he did Sunday.
Love isn't the only player to be singled out for a poor performance. Russell Westbrook showcased some of the same boneheaded decision-making NBA fans have occasionally seen from him over the years. This time it was fouling Batum nearly 35-feet from the hoop as the Frenchman launched a desperation heave toward the rim with the shot clock winding down. Another sequence involving a bad turnover followed immediately by a blatant goaltend didn't help his cause either. Games like this make it easy to ask the question -- can the U.S. trust Russ?
The next matchup for Team USA is against Tunisia on Tuesday night (5:15 ET). After losing 60-56 to Nigeria on Sunday, the Tunisian head coach, Abdel Tlatli, admitted to his team being overwhelmed by both the pressure of the Olympics and the physicality of the Nigerian squad. Needless to say, that doesn't bode well for a matchup against the U.S. If 60-point blowouts are your thing, this might be the game for you.