LAS VEGASIf slaughtering the competition the way they did in its exhibition opener in what is just a prelude of what to expect in 2012 Olympic play, Team USA demolished its opponent, the Dominican Republic, 113-59, Thursday evening at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of UNLV then maybe the debate about whether the current USA Basketball national team is superior to the original Dream Team of 1992 is actually legitimate.
While they didnt win the opening tip, Team USA struck first and in impressive fashion, as a Chris Paul steal led to an easy Carmelo Anthony fast-break finish.
However, it was no runaway from freight train in the earlier going, as the John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic squad actually took a 4-2 lead something that never occurred with the 1992 squad, it must be noted though neither team could be accused of crisp play at the very outset.
Quickly, however, things changed, as USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski made rapid-fire substitutions in the opening period, showing a commitment to the small-ball philosophy made necessary by the squads lack of size league MVP LeBron James guarded Atlanta Hawks big man Al Horford, for example blitzing the Dominicans with a 13-0 run before Horford knocked down a free throw, followed by a subsequent three-pointer from ex-Louisville point guard Edgar Sosa, who later exited the game with a leg injury, and a triple by Horford, cutting the deficit to 15-10.
But whatever the Americans were missing in size, they made up for in versatility, defensive intensity, unselfishness and offensive firepower.
Highlights of the first stanza included three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durants three-point barrage as well as an alley-oop from Paul James throwing down a fast-break lob from Deron Williams and a surprising pair of triples from defensive-minded swingman Andre Iguodala.
After a quarter of play, Team USA led, 26-12, with the likes of NBA legend Bill Russell, Hall of Fame player and coach Lenny Wilkens, and original Dream Teamers Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler and former Bulls superstar Scottie Pippen looking on, as every player except recent No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis, a Chicago native, saw some action.
Durant continued his one-man shooting exhibition in the second quarter, nailing his first five attempts from behind the arc, but it was clear that Team USAs focus was on the defensive end, as the smallish Americans the Dominican Republic actually had more size on the court at most times, though inferior length and athleticism pressured the ball for the length of the court, although that didnt lead to the gap, while a comfortable margin, widening much more.
At the intermission, the hosts held a 50-27 advantage, following Durants sixth first-half made three and a late deep two-point jumper, as he notched 21 points before the break.
Williams started the second half in place of Paul and immediately made his impact by scoring the first two baskets of the third quarter to double up the Dominican Republic, followed by a relative slump from Team USA and the Sin City crowd doing an extended version of The Wave and chanting U-S-A to inspire their heroes, though the sight of former NBA stars like Gary Payton, Steve Smith, Spencer Haywood and Dominique Wilkins brought some life to the arena.
Bryant, revered locally due to Los Angeles close proximity and the fact that Las Vegas doesnt have an NBA franchise, struggled with his shot, often taking contested jumpers, but the Americans quickly got back in gear and after three consecutive dunks by Durant, Chandler and Iguodala Durants came on a transition alley-oop from Thunder teammate James Harden; Oklahoma Citys other Olympian, Russell Westbrook missed a wide-open attempt of his own, though he later atoned with a pretty fast-break layup, plus the foul Team USA seized firm control of the contest and went into the final period with a commanding 79-41 lead.
Davis made his first appearance of the contest at the beginning of the fourth quarter and while the Chicagoan didnt affect the game to a huge extent, a steal and full-court push resulting in him splitting a pair of foul shots after missing a transition layup showed flashes of the big mans potential, despite not practicing with his teammates after suffering an ankle injury early in training camp.
Due to the game being such a laugher, Davis got more touches than he could ever hope to on a team of established NBA superstars and as time went on, he found his groove a left-handed jump hook, a put-back layup off an offensive rebound and a four-point play with under a minute to go in the lop-sided affair that fittingly concluded the scoring in the festive atmosphere.