- Last Updated: 3:19 PM, July 29, 2012
- Posted: 11:38 AM, July 29, 2012
LONDON – Team USA’s men’s basketball team got off to as sweet an Olympic start as a good French pastry as the heavily favored Americans broke free after a tight first quarter to pummel France, 98-71, at the packed basketball venue in Olympic Park.
France kept it real close for the first quarter as a Yannick Bokolo 3-pointer at the buzzer sliced Team USA’s lead to 22-21.
Mike Krzyzewski’s crew had enough of that and broke out on a 11-0 run to start the second quarter, ignited by a LeBron James 3-pointer. Kobe Bryant followed with a 3-pointer and the French were reeling and trailing 33-21 with 7:46 left in the half.
Kevin Durant finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, LeBron James added 9 points with 8 assists and starting center Tyson Chandler had an active game with 8 points and 9 rebounds. His Knicks teammate Carmelo Anthony finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds despite foul trouble.
"The first half, France did what they had to do,'' said Anthony, who picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, sending him to the bench. "They slowed up the game. We know everyone's expecting us to win by 20, 30 points but at the end of the day, a win is a win.''
"We didn't play a perfect game,'' James said. "We still have room for improvement.''
First Lady Michelle Obama attended the game and received hugs from the American players after the blowout victory.
"For her to be sitting there, while we're out there competing, not just for us, but for our country, for her to be there, we gave her a hug to thank her for coming,'' Anthony said. "And she thanked us for going out there and doing what we're doing for America."
USA will face lightly regarded Tunisia in its next contest Tuesday.
French point guard Tony Parker scored 10 points while wearing protective, designer goggles because of a bottle-throwing incident at a New York nightclub that caused him to have eye surgery. He ran the team smartly early to keep the French in it, but the team didn’t have the depth to compete for four quarters.
Fouls plagued Team USA early. “It should have been a bigger lead in the first quarter,’’ Chandler said. “We gambled a lot. When we gambled, we didn’t come away with steals, so we gave them layups and free throws. Once we stopped that, we extended the lead.’’
Team USA took a 52-36 lead into halftime after a final-minute two-handed slam dunk by James that lit up the crowd that was 60-40 in favor of USA. The American fans chanted “USA’’ moments before the opening tip and again even louder with 2:08 left in the half with the team up 16.
Anthony came off the bench and swished his first attempt – an 18-foot jumper. He also scored in the first quarter but got into foul trouble – picking up his third with 6:20 left in the half after grabbing Boris Diaw. That sent Anthony to the bench with 5 first-half points.
Melo was puzzled. “We were just trying to figure it out during the course of the game,’’ Anthony said of the fouls. “We had no clue. The third quarter we didn’t foul as much. The whistle wasn’t blowing as much. We were able to stop them on the defensive end. That’s when we’re at our best.’’
Durant led the team in scoring with 15 first-half points, getting out on the fastbreak frequently. Team USA moved the ball with aplomb. James had 5 assists as USA racked up 14 dishes to France’s 3 in the first half.
Team USA took a 78-51 lead into the fourth quarter after an active backup center Kevin Love ripped down an offensive rebound with one hand and scored. Love had a solid game off the bench with 14 points.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson was in attendance with his family as he takes a European vacation.
The new arena, which holds 12,000 people, was jammed. Fans waited outside in pouring rain for a half-hour in long lines before being let into the structure at Olympic Park.
Knicks center Chandler scored the first points of the Olympics for USA. He converted an alley-oop lob from James to easily score over the prone ex-Knicks center Ronny Turiaf and was fouled.
Chandler was active early on offense and had six points in the opening minutes. In the opening minute of the third, Chandler ripped down an offensive rebound and fed it back to Durant, who drained a 3-pointer. An ensuing Chandler dunk put the Americans up 22 points, 60-38.
Nets point guard Deron Williams had a handful of nifty assists, notching 6. He fed James on an alley-oop dunk in the second half and made a touch, behind-the-back pass to Durant on a fastbreak.Follow @NYPostsports