Carmelo Anthony might not have had the 37 points in 14 minutes that he had the last time the USA Basketball Men’s National Team played Nigeria, but he still managed to lead his team to a dominant 110-66 victory on Monday night in Houston.
In their final exhibition game before heading to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games, Anthony led the U.S. in scoring with 19 points in just 19 minutes despite missing all six of his 3-point attempts. The last time he faced Nigeria, Anthony set the U.S. single-game scoring record at the 2012 London Olympics by draining 10-of-12 3s in a 156-73 win.
“I set the bar too high,” Anthony said with a smile.
While the U.S. might not have posted those record numbers in front of a sold-out Toyota Center crowd, the defensive intensity was menacing.
Nigeria went just 4-for-29 on 3-pointers, while committing 20 turnovers.
“Obviously, they’re the No. 1 team in the world for a reason,” Nigeria coach Will Voigt said. “For us to shoot the percentage that we did from 3, and obviously, their defense is a big part of that, because they’re so good in transition, all of those misses led to big opportunities for them. They kind of feed off of that.”
The U.S. outscored Nigeria 22-7 in fast-break points and shot a blistering 53.9% from the field, including 13-for-33 from beyond the arc. Both Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan had four steals, and Kyle Lowry led the team with 11 assists, including two bold alley-oops to DeRozan and DeAndre Jordan.
“He’s a high-flyer, and he’s a guy who they say, ‘Just throw it up to him from anywhere,’ so that’s what I’m doing,” Lowry said, referring to the 50-foot pass thrown to Jordan from several feet behind the half-court line.
Six players scored in double figures for the U.S., with Klay Thompson scoring 17 points off the bench on 5-of-9 shooting from 3, Kevin Durant scoring 14 points on 3-of-4 from deep, DeRozan scoring 13 points and DeMarcus Cousins and Jordan both adding 10 points.
Lowry fell two points and two rebounds shy of a triple-double, and Harrison Barnes was one of four players to have both a steal and a block.
The U.S. struggled to find a rhythm for parts of the first half, but when shots weren’t falling, they found success by attacking the rim.
The first half was summed up perfectly by the last possession before halftime. After the team missed three consecutive jump shots but got several second-chance opportunities, Anthony took matters into his own hands by going into the paint and drawing the foul at the buzzer. After Anthony made his free throw to finish the three-point play, the U.S. held a halftime lead of 54-30.
“We wanted to share the ball well and try some people with different positions and different lineups,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought we advanced, and I thought we got better tonight.”
Krzyzewski spoke especially highly of his team’s defensive intensity. Even late into the fourth quarter with their lead hovering around 50 points, the U.S. was relentless on defense, forcing near shot-clock violations on nearly every possession.
Kyrie Irving and Paul George did not play in the game, but Krzyzewski said they will be ready for Saturday night’s Olympic preliminary round game against China.
No play or player got a louder reaction from the crowd than when TNT basketball analyst Craig Sager was introduced and shown on the videoboard. Sager, who has covered the Olympics since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, will be unable to travel to Rio amid his fight against leukemia. Sager is preparing for a third bone marrow transplant surgery.
“Every coach has things that he has to get done -- I don’t look at it as a challenge,” Krzyzewski said. “A challenge is what Craig Sager is going through and how magnificently he’s going through it.”
Also in attendance were Houston Rockets guards Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley as well as former Olympic gold medal winners Alonzo Mourning and David Robinson, who all sat between the scorer’s table and the U.S. bench.