The United States deflected China’s first pass of the two teams’ Olympics 2016 opener, something that would be a theme for them on the night. China stayed competitive for about two minutes at least, jumping out to a 4-2 lead.
And ... that was as good as it got for China. The U.S. promptly ripped off a 9-0 run and never looked back, winning the first quarter, 30-10. Using the same combination of stifling defense and devastating transition play, they dominated the rest of the game to start group play with a 119-62 victory.
Those two factors, as much as the United States’ raw talent, were on full display against China and are also why they don’t look to face a serious challenge in this tournament.
The U.S. eased off the gas a little bit in the second quarter, which they only won 29-20, but China never mounted a serious threat. It’s hard to see how any other team will either.
Freed from having to carry a huge offensive load, Team USA’s superstars are free to focus on making things as difficult as they can for their opposition. Even Kyrie Irving was at his inner-Dukie, floor-slapping on defense and diving on the floor for loose balls.
When China managed to get the ball past Team USA's thicket of arms, they couldn’t convert, shooting 35.7 percent from the field in the loss.
Whether off of misses or deflections, the United States has a clear mandate to do one thing on offense: run. Whether it was DeMarcus Cousins throwing outlet passes ahead of the fray nearly before he even got his hands on rebounds, or any wing that touched the ball immediately sprinting ahead with the expectation one of their teammates would recover the ball and get it to them, the United States' defense induced a sense of claustrophobia just watching it, much less trying to score against it.
For China, that claustrophobia manifested itself in the form of 15 turnovers in the first half alone, and 24 for the game. Yi Jianlian (25 points on 8-19 shooting) was able to get going a bit, with some second-half scoring making it look like he went up against the chair he faced in his infamous pre-draft workout, but he was the only one able to do much for the Chinese.
Recent Houston Rockets draft pick Zhou Qi (3 points on 0-2 shooting with two turnovers) will want to forget his first bout against some of his future NBA opponents. He will hardly be the only one to play against the U.S. in Rio who feels that way. This opener did little to dissuade the notion that everyone other than the United States is just playing for silver.
2 other things we learned
Kevin Durant is unstoppable in space
File this under "Things we should probably have expected." While Durant certainly adds to the aforementioned sea of arms for the United States on defense, he did most of his damage against China on the other end of the floor, thanks to more breathing room than he gets shooting around in an empty gym.
Durant led the way for the U.S. with 25 points, including 17 in the first half. Rio looks to be a terrifying preview for the rest of the NBA — as devastating as his game was in Oklahoma City, it’s going to be a nuclear warhead in the space he’ll have in Golden State.
The panic induced by the United States’ transition attack often left four or five Chinese players running into the paint to stop the ball, which left Durant walking into several wide-open threes. For their international opponents, it’s essentially a choice of which way they die, not whether or not to go on living. China chose to take their chances from long-range, an understandable choice, but Durant was more than happy to carry out their sentence just the same. It will be interesting to see if other teams do the same going forward.
Which brings us to point two:
DeMarcus Cousins on a good team is fun
Cousins dominated with 17 points on 6-8 shooting against China. It’s easy to see just how effective he’ll be if any team can slow the United States down enough to make it a half-court game, or simply decides to stay home on shooters and guard Cousins one-on-one.
From easily slicing into the defense out of pick-and-rolls with Durant to simply getting fouled sealing and/or bullying players for post position, all of the signs were there that the U.S. will have a dependable option to go to should things ever get bogged down.
Cousins was also helpful on defense and on the boards, and was even running in transition. But outside of the on-court stuff, it was just plain fun to watch him on a good team. From getting chatty with Chinese players after fouls to patting them on the rear after scoring on a cut and even smiling a couple times, Boogie appears to be enjoying himself out there.
Oh, and he’s taking hilarious pictures with the rest of the U.S. Olympic delegation. Outside of a couple of silly fouls in the third quarter, this was a reminder of how lovable Cousins can be away from the dysfunctional Sacramento Kings.
DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler managed to have a little fun as well.
Hahahaha Team USA played Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide who could shoot free throws GIVE THEM GOLD NOW pic.twitter.com/WAmLRLMxCe— SB Nation (@SBNation) August 6, 2016