U.S. Olympic Men Shake Off Slow Start To Beat Venezuela 113-69
The 2016 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (2-0), which found itself tied with Venezuela (0-2) 18-18 after the first quarter, blew the game open with a 24-4 second-quarter run that propelled it to a 113-69 win on Monday evening at Carioca Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
Sinking 32-of-38 foul shots, the U.S. tied its men’s Olympic record for free throws made, and while it wasn’t a percentage record, the USA was in impressive 84.2 percent from the charity stripe.
Paul George (Indiana Pacers), who scored 20 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, led five U.S. players in double-digit scoring to contribute to the USA’s 70 points off of the bench.
“Venezuela is so well-coached,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Duke). “They are tough guys. They try to control tempo and did for a long period of time. They make you play defense, and then we fouled a lot as a result of that, because you have to play it longer. We didn’t get a good offensive rhythm because of their defense, and then in the second quarter, our defense picked up. I thought Jimmy (Butler) was a huge factor in that. He just came in and really gave us a big lift. I thought DeAndre (Jordan), those two guys defensively kind of picked the whole thing up for us. I think we wore them down as the game went along.”
The first quarter saw three tied scores and six lead changes as both team struggled to find a rhythm. Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors) scored the first seven points for the USA, but he, along with DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) and George, was whistled for two fouls. Durant got his two fouls in 7:25 minutes of play, while Cousins got his two fouls in only 1:59 and George in 5:00 minutes.
A 3-pointer from Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls) with just 8.4 seconds remaining in the first quarter gave the USA an 18-16 lead, but Venezuela, which was 9-of-10 from the free throw line in the first period, made two free throws at 2.4 seconds to make it 18-all at the first quarter break.
“Basically the first thing we talked about was guard without fouling,” said Butler, who finished with 17 points and was 8-of-8 from the free throw line. “We used our hands a little bit too much, bailing them out on a lot of their baskets. We just have to get off to a better, faster start, which we know. We can’t dig ourselves a hold. When we pick it up, we’re really hard to match up with. The way we play defense, if we guard like that for 40 straight minutes, we’ll be in a great position to win.”
The USA changed the game’s momentum in the second quarter, not sending Venezuela to the free throw line once while forcing eight turnovers. With the USA’s lead at two points, 24-22, with 7:34 to play before halftime, the USA closed the first half with a 24-4 run to lead 48-26 at the midway point. Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) scored 10 of his 14 points in the second period, and he hit his first of two 3-pointers in the period with 4:32 on the clock.
“I thought Melo (Carmelo), K.D. (Kevin Durant), Kyrie did a good job offensively in getting us in our rhythm,” George said. “We got some great stops. Really, what changed this game was the steal by Melo, Kyrie came down and kicked it out for a 3. That really ignited us on the bench. That ignited Melo, it ignited that group out there on the court. That was really the turn of events in this game.”
The USA tallied a quick six points to start the third quarter and led by 28 points, 54-26, with 8:51 on the clock. But Venezuela fought back, and the U.S. only increased its lead by two points in the period to go ahead 75-51 headed into the final quarter.
The USA raced to 38 points in the fourth quarter while holding Venezuela to 18 to secure the 113-69 win. Along with George’s 14 points, Butler had eight points in the final period and Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors) dished out four of his nine assists in the game.
The USA’s largest margin of the game, 47 points, came with 1:21 left on two free throws from Barnes (4-4 FTs), who was one of five players who were perfect from the free throw line. Along with Butler’s 8-of-8 performance, Anthony, Cousins and DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors) were 2-of-2 from the line.
Durant was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field on his way to 16 points and five assists; and DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers) had 14 points and nine rebounds.
The USA topped Venezuela 80-45 on July 29 in Chicago but was just 28-of-66 from the field (.424) and 4-of-25 from 3-point (.250) in that win. Tonight, the USA shot 36-66 from the field (.545) and 9-of-22 from 3-point (.409).
“Our defense is going to carry us through this tournament,” Jordan said. “We’ve got a lot of versatile guys who can guard a lot of different positions, and we’ve got a lot of scorers. First of all, we have to focus on our defense and then our scoring will come.”
Also today in Group A action, Australia (2-0) beat Serbia (1-1) 95-80, while France (0-1) will play China (0-1) at 9:30 p.m. (EDT).
The U.S. men continue the preliminary round against Australia at 6 p.m. (all times EDT) on Aug. 10, followed by Serbia at 6 p.m. on Aug. 12 and a final preliminary game against France at 1:15 p.m. on Aug. 14.
The top four finishing teams from each preliminary round group advance to the quarterfinals on Aug. 17.
The semifinals will be played on Aug. 19, and the finals are on Aug. 21.
The USA’s assistant coaches are Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Tom Thibodeau (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Monty Williams.