RIO DE JANEIRO — Red, white and blase for one quarter, the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team woke up and won with ease.
Shaking off a sluggish, sloppy start and maybe some Brazilian boredom, the Americans regrouped in the second quarter and romped over Venezuela 113-69 on Monday, taking another step toward a possible third straight gold medal.
The Americans were tied after one quarter, but turned up their defensive intensity, outscored Venezuela 30-8 in the second period and improved to 82-1 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“The game of basketball, everything’s not going to be easy,” Durant said. “We know that, even with this great team.”
It was similar to the meeting between the teams in Chicago on July 29, when the U.S. shot poorly and still won by 35 on its pre-Rio exhibition tour. Maybe this was a reminder that no team can be taken lightly — and there is little margin for error — once the Olympic flame is ignited.
The Americans continue pool play on Wednesday against unbeaten Australia. The Aussies, featuring five NBA players, four of them league champions, improved to 2-0 on Monday with an impressive 95-80 win over Serbia. Australia has never won an Olympic medal in men’s basketball.
Anthony, the four-time Olympian and two-time gold medalist playing in his record 25th game for the United States, provided a much-needed spark in the second quarter.
“I think once we settled down, made our adjustments to the way they were calling the game, the way that Venezuela wanted to play the game, that second quarter we picked it up defensively and turned it around,” Anthony said.
With the Americans leading just 28-22 and looking anything but golden, Anthony came across the lane and stripped the ball away from Venezuelan center Gregory Echenique and passed it to Kyrie Irving. Anthony then trailed Irving up the floor, accepted a feed on the wing and knocked down a 3-pointer that lifted some of the pressure — and fog — off Team USA.
Venezuela’s John Cox, a cousin of American superstar Kobe Bryant, scored 19 and Echenique 18.
Although this may not be the best made-in-America team as James, Stephen Curry and others chose to skip the Rio Games, the U.S. squad that came to Brazil appears to be in a class by itself. There will likely be tougher games ahead, but they haven’t had one yet.
Venezuela, which doesn’t have an NBA player on its roster, didn’t figure to be a threat but the FIBA Americas champion wasn’t intimidated by the U.S. roster of household names.
With their fans doing all they could to push the heavy underdogs, Venezuela’s players outworked the Americans in the first quarter, which ended 18-all and the U.S. with six turnovers.
It was a different story in the second, when the Americans reeled off 13 straight points in one stretch to take control.
Staying on a 196-cabin luxury cruise ship anchored off Rio’s coast, the U.S. team has settled in following a few choppy early days in Brazil.
Taking the floor in all-white warm-ups as Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” blared inside the Carioca Arena, the U.S. team looked both relaxed and ready.
DeAndre Jordan showed off some dance moves during layup drills as Brazilian fans, many of them wearing NBA jerseys, snapped photos of the American stars.
Late in the game, after George crushed a dunk to put the U.S. up by 43, Jordan boogied again on the sideline.