USA's Tyson Chandler, right, grabs a rebound in front of France's Mickael Gelabale, left, during the first half of a preliminary men's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday.
LONDON — Hardly dreamy, still dominant.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points, LeBron James added eight assists and the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team opened tournament play with a rough-and-ragged 98-71 win over France on Sunday.
Seeking a second straight gold medal to match the one they won in Beijing four years ago, the Americans expected a tough test from a French team featuring San Antonio guard Tony Parker and five other NBA players.
The U.S. was never in real trouble, and after overcoming some major foul issues and sloppy play, the superstar-laden squad finally put France away in the second half.
“It wasn’t perfect,” James said. “We’ve still got room for improvement. We had too many turnovers, too many fouls and we had a couple of defensive rebounds we could have come up with. But overall, we played a pretty good game for as close to 40 minutes as possible.”
Kobe Bryant had said this team could beat the 1992 Dream Team that changed international hoops forever at the Barcelona Games. That matchup is mythical, but the London Games aren’t and this U.S. team will have to play much better in upcoming games if it plans to maintain American dominance.
Parker didn’t want to concede anything, but when asked if the Americans can be beat, he took a contemplative pause before responding.
“They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said.
U.S. point guard Chris Paul wasn’t concerned about the sluggish offensive performance to start the game.
“We got off to a slow start, probably a little too anxious,” he said. “Like we’ve been saying all along, our defense is what makes us so good. As long as we do that, we’ll have a chance.”
With first lady Michelle Obama on hand to cheer on the U.S., Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler added nine rebounds apiece and Kevin Love finished with 14 points for the Americans. The U.S. will next play Tuesday against Tunisia, beaten 60-56 by Nigeria in the tournament opener.
As they left the floor, the U.S. players stopped to hug the first lady.
Parker, playing with goggles to protect a surgically repaired left eye, scored 10 points but France, which trailed by just one point after the first quarter, fell to 0-5 in Olympic competition against the USA. Ali Traore led the French with 12 points.
With the U.S. leading 52-36 at halftime, Durant opened the second half with a 3-pointer, Bryant dropped one from long range and after James dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams, the Americans led 64-43.
Au revoir, France.
“We’re trying to figure out how to play with the rhythm of the game,” Anthony said. “Once we figured that out, we were good.”
The U.S. team’s lead ballooned to 78-51 after three quarters, allowing coach Mike Krzyzewski to rest Bryant, James and Durant for most of the fourth quarter. With the game well in hand, Krzyzewski even gave 19-year-old Anthony Davis, the top pick in June’s NBA draft, his first taste of Olympic play.
Unlike his peers, Krzyzewski has the luxury of a deep bench and he was forced to go it early and often in the first half, when the Americans racked up fouls.
After the U.S. started the game by missing its first six three-point attempts, Bryant, James and Durant started finding the range from beyond the arc. The trio finished the game a combined 6 for 12 from three-point range while the rest of the U.S. went 2 for 13.
Parker nearly missed these Olympics. The 30-year-old recently underwent surgery after he was hit with broken glass during a nightclub fight in New York. Parker was not involved in the bottle-throwing melee between R&B singer Chris Brown and members of rapper Drake’s entourage.
He was able to break down the U.S. defense early on, but once the Americans forced the ball from his hands, the French had no one else to turn to.
American’s multimillion dollar conglomerate of hoop talent came out of the locker room singing on the way to the floor for pregame warmups. Their chants caught the attention of several Brazilian players still doing interviews following a tight opening win over Australia.
As Bryant, James and Durant filed onto the hardwood, some of France’s players turned to take a look.
The U.S. players weren’t nearly so jovial at halftime following a sloppy, foul-filled first half in which the Americans were whistled for 18 personals and complained about some calls. Anthony and Russell Westbrook spent the final six minutes of the second quarter on the bench after picking up their third fouls.
A few days ago, France’s Ronny Turiaf likened the U.S. team’s ability to play big or small to a two-faced beast.
“That team is like a Gemini,” said Turiaf, who will play with Paul and the Clippers next season. “They have two faces, a nightmare-nightmare.”
But the U.S. team was its own worst enemy in the first quarter. Too often, the American settled for jump shots rather than driving to the basket. The Americans missed all six 3-pointers in the opening period, and when France’s Yannick Bokolo drained a 3 in the final second, France was within 22-21.
France’s Nicolas Batum, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, said he thought after being up by only one point after the first quarter that the U.S. would “panic.”
The “second quarter, it was 0-0 new game for them,” Batum said. “They started to defend us, make some big shots.”
James opened the second quarter with a 3 and the U.S. quickly went on an 11-0 run before it was slowed down by a rash of fouls — several of them needless.
Fortunately for the Americans, the French made only 1 of 11 3-pointers and missed seven free throws, allowing the U.S. to take a 52-36 halftime lead.